The future of health care in rural Colorado communities got a boost Tuesday with the announcement of a $2.2 million grant for a new University of Colorado at Colorado Springs partnership.

The Southern Colorado Rural Nursing Education and Practice Collaborative will enable community college nursing students to earn Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees in their home communities such as Lamar, Alamosa, Trinidad and Durango, taking courses at their local community college or online. Many classes will be taught in real time by UCCS Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences faculty.

The gift from the Colorado Health Foundation is the largest in the Beth-El College history, and is part of the foundation’s wider initiative to improve rural health care.

Rural southern Colorado faces extreme challenges recruiting advanced practice nurses and nursing faculty, and associate nursing degrees from community colleges do not qualify graduates for teaching or nurse practitioner roles.

“With advanced nursing degrees, nurses can see patients independently and prescribe medications, but here in Lamar, we have not been able to educate for these roles,” said Sandy Summers, director of nursing and allied health programs at Lamar Community College. “This grant enables UCCS and its southern Colorado community college partners to collaborate in a way that I have not seen in the 18 years that I have been in nursing education.”

The program, involving Lamar Community College, Otero Junior College, Pikes Peak Community College, Pueblo Community College and Trinidad State Junior College, aims to increase the number of nursing professionals who serve rural southern Coloradans by at least 45.

The grant will support equipment for the Clinical Simulation Learning Center, to help Beth-El faculty “teach the teachers” and provide competency-based testing of students earning clinical training hours required for certification.

Cisco Telepresence conferencing technology will connect distance learners from around the state to UCCS via high-definition video and other interactive features.

Contact the writer at 636-0162.