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ABAC, USDA Partner with Area Hospitals to Grow Health Care Services

January 3, 2017

Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced the implementation plan for a $567,200 Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant. With funds provided by the USDA Rural Development program, the project tackles the urgent need for Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree trained nurses and the increase of accessible health care services in the more rural areas of South Georgia.

ABAC Vice President for Technology and Chief Information Officer Robert Gerhart said the endeavor will establish a distance learning network between ABAC’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences and six area hospitals to deliver the Registered Nurse to BSN Completion Program.

“ABAC recognizes that technology is a powerful enabler to both teaching and learning,” Gerhart said.  “Consequently, the College is making strategic investments in its technological capabilities, and telehealth will be the newest addition to our academic portfolio. The addition of cutting-edge communications, videoconferencing and content distribution services will expand ABAC’s influence beyond the physical campus.  Not only will we be able to engage the local and regional communities, we will extend our presence to global audiences.”

Gerhart said the funds will be used for infrastructure and equipment to place mobile videoconferencing units at ABAC hub sites in Tifton and Moultrie that connect with the Brooks County Hospital in Quitman, the Miller County Hospital in Colquitt, the Phoebe Worth Medical Center in Sylvester, the Southwest Georgia Regional Medical Center in Cuthbert, Grady General Hospital in Cairo and the Mitchell County Hospital in Camilla.  The Quitman, Cairo, and Camilla locations are part of the Archbold Medical Center’s four hospital and three nursing home health system.

“This grant provides us the means to extend educational opportunities to nurses all over South Georgia and begins the latest chapter in our 50-year history of nursing education at ABAC,” Dr. Tami Dennis, coordinator of the RN to BSN Completion Program, said.

ABAC added the BSN program to its curriculum in 2016 to complement the associate degree program which has produced thousands of nursing graduates since it began in 1966. The associate degree program prepares graduates to take the RN certification exam. Registered Nurses who add the bachelor’s degree in nursing to their academic backgrounds position themselves for career advancement and management roles with the potential for higher salaries.

“Distance learning can ensure quality educational programming reaches beyond the campus to the rural communities of the region,” said Jill Stuckey, USDA Rural Development Georgia State Director.  “This project creates professional development opportunities that can create a highly educated and qualified nursing workforce to help meet the needs of the region’s Medically Underserved Areas.”

The distance learning network will be used to strengthen community health education and outreach programs.  The project will also provide remote access to ABAC academic programs for citizens within the area to take college classes, earn degrees and develop skills to gain entry into the local workforce.

Practicing nurses will use the network to access online courses delivered via interactive videoconferencing in conjunction with ABAC’s human patient simulation laboratory.  With the advanced technology, nurses will experience real life medical scenarios without leaving their jobs or communities.

Gerhart has had experience working on a similar grant in the past.  He assisted with the evaluation and management needed for the technologies being used in the new distance learning project.  Gerhart believes doors could be opened to other areas of study for the college to explore.

“The USDA grant will enable ABAC to enhance our academic programs,” said Gerhart.  “With this emerging and innovative technology, we will not only directly support the health care community in South Georgia, we will also augment our on-campus instruction, develop new outreach programs and provide collaborative opportunities for our faculty and students by establishing connections with industry partners, government agencies and other academic and research institutions.”
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