South Louisiana Community College is touting a $2.5 million gift, the largest in the history of Louisiana community colleges, as the means for expanding its home health care efforts in six additional rural campuses over the next five years.

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy speaks with Graciana Breaux, Simulation and Skills Lab coordinator, left, and Chancellor Natalie Harder while touring the South Louisiana Community College Health and Sciences Building Monday, February 17, 2020, in Lafayette, La. The medical dummy is a high-fidelity pediatric sim used by patients going into the medical field. STAFF PHOTO BY LESLIE WESTBROOK

The gift from LHC Group, a Lafayette-based home health care provider working in 35 states, and the Myers Family Foundation, will help SLCC build six home-health training labs outside of the present lab, built last year at the Lafayette campus. In addition, it will fund an endowed chair, endowed teaching positions and student scholarships and help create a new, national credential for home health training. The endowed chair will focus its activities on nursing and home health.

“This project is especially timely with the focus on healthcare through the existing COVID-19 pandemic. Knowledgeable, well-rounded healthcare graduates who can work in the home, clinics and hospitals are needed now more than ever,” Natalie J. Harder, SLCC’s chancellor, said in an prepared statement.

SLCC will add labs at its health care training academic sites in Ville Platte, Abbeville and Morgan City in 2020; and at Opelousas, Crowley and St. Martinville in 2021, where they are expected to open in the fall.

“This is very important work, a lot of what LHC does,” SLCC spokeswoman Christine Payton said. “They are a leader in the field.”

She said LHC has partnered with SLCC since 2016 and funded the lab at the health and sciences building on campus. They toured the lab and “were excited about the training that will happen there and that’s where the new project came from.”

The labs include a model bedroom and bathroom where prospective nurses and health care workers can learn how to tend to patients in the home. Payton said some 350 students are expected to train in the facilities by the end of 2021. She said students will learn “what to do at the home, how to talk with a patient,” as well as other functions of the job.

“It is a national example of what we can create together when we focus our resources and our talent to make for a stronger health care system for the state of Louisiana,” said Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.

“The fact that LHC Group and the Myers Family Foundation chose SLCC among hundreds of other colleges and universities in its service area is humbling,” Rebecca Harris-Smith, SLCC’s dean of Nursing and Allied Health, said. “Our faculty are some of the best in the nation, and many of us worked in home health so this project is especially close to our hearts.”

LHC Group operations employ more than 32,000 workers and spans 35 states and the District of Columbia.

“Now more than ever, patients, families, physicians and health systems alike realize care received in the home is among the most important in the health care continuum, and older Americans increasingly are choosing to receive care in the comfort of home,” Keith Myers, LHC Group’s chairman and CEO, said.

“We are proud to expand our partnership with an exemplary and innovative system like SLCC to build greater understanding about in-home health care and help prepare the next generation of clinicians and caregivers. There’s no substitute for hands-on training where students can learn the specialized skills needed to provide quality in-home care.”

By Ken Stickney; Originally published in Acadiana Advocate, May 13, 2020