Dr. Melinda Oberleitner is ending her service as dean of the College of Nursing & Health Sciences. Dr. Lisa Broussard will be interim dean.
Today, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and LHC Group announced a historic and transformational partnership designed to further each of their respective missions of recruiting and equipping more nurses and other health care professionals.
The University announced that LHC Group is committing a $20 million investment over the next 10 years in the University’s nursing program, which is the largest private investment an academic unit at the University has ever received.
The funds received by the University’s nursing program will help empower the future of health care and meet the ever growing demand for nurses and other health care professionals in Acadiana, throughout Louisiana and in combination with LHC Group’s footprint across the country.
LHC Group’s investment into this partnership will enable UL Lafayette’s College of Nursing and Allied Health Professions to:
- Endow support for the internationally accredited simulation lab program;
- Establish the University’s first endowed deanship to provide discretionary funds for professional development activities for students and faculty;
- Increase scholarship funding available to students;
- Create an endowed faculty research and development fund;
- Support new endowed professorships in nursing and health sciences, and additional faculty positions;
- Provide scholarships for students who are pursuing post-acute care certification at the graduate level; and
- Assign LHC Group representatives in adjunct roles within the college of nursing.
LHC Group’s “investment in the future of this community and in the equipping of nurses with a nationwide reach is transformational and more than a milestone for the University,” Dr. Joseph Savoie, UL Lafayette president, said while making the announcement on Thursday.
“We are very thankful,” Savoie continued. “This support from LHC Group reflects where we are as a University and ensures that greater possibilities remain ahead for us and the region we are proud to serve.”
Lafayette-based LHC Group is a national provider of in-home health care services and innovations for communities around the nation and the joint venture partner for approximately 400 leading U.S. hospitals and health systems. The company operates in 35 states and the District of Columbia and employs approximately 30,000 people.
Keith Myers, LHC Group’s chairman and CEO, noted the company’s long and mutually beneficial relationship with the University and the College of Nursing and Allied Health Professions – and their shared commitment to create a future of opportunity, health and happiness for everyone who calls this community home.
“The presence of UL Lafayette – and the well-educated, highly skilled health care professionals it produces – enables companies like ours to grow within the region and expand well beyond,” Myers said.
“This historic partnership is a win-win – since both of our organizations share a commitment to excellence in all that we do - especially continuous growth and improvement. The benefits to LHC Group are multi-faceted,” continued Myers.
“In addition to benefits like post-acute care certifications at the graduate level and adjunct professorships for LHC Group team members, we will soon be able to offer the differentiating benefit of in-person and virtual degree programs at a greatly reduced cost to all current and future full- and part-time employees across our national footprint. Those who take part will receive the extensive education and training needed to thrive in the changing health care environment of today and as we move forward. This is an opportunity for LHC Group to provide accredited educational and professional development opportunities to our employees throughout the country as we continue to grow.”
UL Lafayette is planning to honor the partnership by renaming the college’s current Department of Nursing. The name change is pending approval from the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors.
“We have deep ties with LHC Group, and we have common missions built on service and providing compassionate care,” said Dr. Melinda Oberleitner, the college’s dean. “The company knows firsthand who we are and the quality of education we provide. This partnership will enable us to accelerate and enhance this important work.”
She continued: “The trust that they have in us is so meaningful to me, not just as a dean, but as an alumna of this program. To have that level of recognition and support is humbling.”
Some $9 million will go toward assisting the college in addressing space limitations. Its current home, Wharton Hall, was built in the 1950s, when the college was much smaller. It now shares the building with other academic colleges as well.
Last year, the Louisiana Legislature approved state capital outlay funds for the planning of a new health sciences building at UL Lafayette. The project is estimated to cost at least $65 million to complete.
Additional funds are needed for the new building to become a reality, but the LHC Group partnership makes “our dream of expansion viable,” Oberleitner said. And, by expanding its physical space, the college can turn its attention to increasing its enrollment and graduation rates, the dean added.
“We can’t enroll all the qualified applicants we receive each year. We know there are jobs out there, but we can’t meet that demand in our current physical location. This moves us closer to answering this critical need.”
Dr. Benjamin Doga, LHC Group’s chief medical officer, said the support from the company “benefits the college and the University. But ultimately, it’s the patients who depend on our health care providers who are the beneficiaries.”
“Acadiana – and the country – need more qualified health care professionals. The challenges COVID-19 brought over the past year made that plain. And that need only deepens as our population ages. This is an investment in the well-being of our families and our neighbors – and in our employees, who will benefit from newly created tuition reduction programs. It’s an investment in all of us – and that’s a win-win” Doga said.
The partnership comes shortly after the University completes its 2020 observance of the Year of the Nurse and at the beginning of the College of Nursing and Allied Health Professions’ observance of the 70th anniversary of its founding in 1951.
The timing isn’t lost on Oberleitner.
“It’s because of the work of the faculty, staff and our students – both current and those who came before – that LHC Group is willing to make a historic investment in our future. They know that it will significantly improve the region’s health care landscape and the care people in our community receive,” she said.
In remarks announcing the agreement on Thursday, Savoie noted accolades the College of Nursing and Allied Health Professions recently received. U.S. News & World Report cited the college’s online Master of Nursing program among the Top 12% in the nation in January.
“Transformational futures are built on solid ground and through strong partnerships,” Savoie said. “Our faculty, students and staff members provide the first, while partners such as LHC Group provide the other. And I am very grateful for both.”
Photo caption: UL Lafayette nursing students work in one of the College of Nursing and Allied Health Professions’ internationally accredited simulation labs. A $20 million investment from LHC Group in the college includes endowed support for the simulation lab program, among many other areas of impact. (Photo credit: Doug Dugas / University of Louisiana at Lafayette)