Desperately short of protective gear to battle the surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitals across Virginia and the country are asking people to donate equipment and even sew face-mask covers at home.

Responding to that critical need, Germanna Community College has stepped up and handed over the entire stock of personal protective equipment from its nursing and workforce health-training programs to Mary Washington Healthcare’s nurses, clinicians and providers in Fredericksburg and Stafford.

Germanna, which has had a nursing program since its founding in 1970, emptied its nursing lab’s storage shelves of all of its boxes of PPE. The staff’s final count was 250 N-95 masks, 100 booties, 250 isolation gowns, 200 head nets and 18,400 gloves.

“We donated all that we had,” said Patti Lisk, Germanna’s dean of nursing and health technologies. “We’ve always been affiliated with Mary Washington Healthcare. MWH is all about nursing and Germanna is all about nursing. Mary Washington has been aligned with us for a long time, and a lot of our nursing program’s graduates work there.”

Mary Washington Healthcare, which operates Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg and Stafford Hospital in Stafford County, is asking local residents to help its front-line health workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Its website, marywashingtonhealthcare.com, tells people how to donate new and unopened N-95 masks, nitrile gloves and plastic face shields, and provides instructions on making covers to fit over the N-95 masks. Such covers preserve a mask for reuse, and can be replaced with a new one for each patient.

“To say the least, we are extremely thankful for their generosity,” Eileen L. Dohmann, Mary Washington Healthcare’s chief nursing officer, said Saturday afternoon. “... For this week’s donation of PPE and our longstanding partnership with Germanna Community College, MWHC is very grateful.”

Germanna officials decided on Tuesday to donate the college’s stockpiles of protective gear—mostly from its Locust Grove Campus in Orange County—to Mary Washington, and had it delivered on Thursday to Fredericksburg.

“The students, faculty and staff of Germanna are your children, your neighbors, your coworkers,” Dr. Janet Gullickson, Germanna’s president, said Saturday. We’re part of this community and we love it. We will do everything we can to help in this crisis. We’re all in this together.”

On Friday, Gov. Ralph Northam asked Virginia higher-education officials to contribute any PPE that their universities and colleges can spare.

Nationally, even before the coronavirus hit, the United States was suffering from a severe shortage of nurses.

This year, 200,000 nursing positions were projected to go unfilled at hospitals across the country. One in eight nursing positions will go unstaffed.

Analysts say about a third of the nation’s nurses—more than 1 million altogether—will retire within the next decade, according to the American Association of International Healthcare Recruitment.

The need is acute both because many nurses are retiring and more Americans need nursing care as a bigger portion of the nation’s population—particularly the baby-boomer generation—grows older, said Lisk, who holds a doctorate in community college education.

“Put those two things together—retirements and the graying of America—and that makes for the perfect storm,” she said. “Also, women have so many career choices now. When I was a young person, it was either nursing or teaching.”

Ten to 20 percent of the students in Germanna’s nursing program are men, Lisk noted.

Germanna graduates 120 to 130 nursing students a year, and nearly 100 percent of them find good jobs in the field, Lisk, who is a registered nurse, said.

She added that the college just learned that 100 percent of its nursing students passed the test they must take to be certified, the National Council Licensure Examination run by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

“To me, that’s really phenomenal,” she said.

Germanna recently changed its nursing curriculum to a concept-based model that emphasizes critical thinking skills which are different than those in the traditional medical model, Lisk said.

NCLEX helps students make assessments of their patients, leaving diagnosis to physicians.

Virginia began developing the curriculum in the past three years, Lisk said. About half of the states use it.

Germanna students’ success on the NCLEX exam Indicates that it is succeeding in training nurses to fill the skills gap locally, college spokesman Mike Zitz said.

Germanna has about 13,000 students, including those in degree programs and workforce training. The college serves Culpeper, Orange, Madison, Stafford, Spotsylvania, Caroline and King George counties and the city of Fredericksburg.

In recent years, Germanna has been Culpeper County residents’ preferred college for enrollment, educating more than 1,000 students from Culpeper annually.

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