DHHS Secretary Tours PCC Health Sciences Facilities

PCC Emergency Medical Science Program Director Craig Carico, right, describes features of the college's EMS ambulance simulator and the kinds of training that take place in it, as DHHS Sec. Kody Kinsley, center, and N.C. Rep. Brian Farkas look on.

WINTERVILLE—Kody Kinsley, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), visited Pitt Community College April  19 to learn about the college’s health care programs.

Joined by PCC administrators and N.C. Rep. Brian Farkas, Kinsley visited Pitt’s hospital simulation lab and emergency medical science classroom/laboratory, which features EMS crash and ambulance simulators. Donna Neal, dean of PCC’s Health Sciences Division, led the tour and discussed Pitt’s efforts to prepare skilled health care workers and the challenges to meeting that goal.

Neal said there are 19 curricula in her division serving approximately 750 students. That doesn’t include students taking general education courses to gain admission to PCC health care programs nor the significant number enrolled in non-credit health care training, such as nurse aide and phlebotomy.

“There’s no better time than now for someone to consider a health care career,” Neal said. “There’s a workforce shortage locally and across the country unlike anything I’ve seen in my more than 30-year career.”

Though PCC strives to serve as many students as possible, Neal said several factors have kept health care enrollment lower than it could be. She cited a shortage of clinical placements and the current job market as primary reasons, along with a general decline in interest in health care careers.

“We couldn’t take as many nursing students this year as we normally do, due to difficulty in finding enough faculty to teach and the limited number of sites where students can perform clinical training, particularly since COVID either reduced or eliminated access to nursing homes and many other health care operations,” she said. “Health care workers who may have become faculty members in years past have so many opportunities for well-paying positions in today’s job market that it makes it hard for us to hire and retain them.”

Neal also mentioned that health care graduates who traditionally returned to college for additional training in specialty areas have been staying in their current jobs due to the abundance of employment opportunities.

“We have some challenges, but we’re working to overcome them,” she said. “We have a great relationship with the Pitt County Schools Health Sciences Academy, so that helps with recruiting, and we’re fleshing out some good ideas to pique interest among younger students. We’re also targeting adult learners, showing them how they can stack credentials by completing nurse aide, for example, and continue their training in health care degree programs.”

As Kinsley discovered during his tour, PCC health sciences students train in modern facilities on state-of-the-art equipment. The simulation hospital, which opened full-time in January 2019, features a pair of five-bed units with a control room in between, where instructors can conduct training exercises and observe students working with highly-advanced human patient simulators.

Neal said the simulation hospital allows students from multiple health care programs to work together, as they would in an actual hospital environment. She said medical residents from East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine occasionally visit the facility to train with PCC students on patient case scenarios that build knowledge and emphasize good communication and teamwork.

Appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper, Kinsley has served as DHHS secretary since January. He oversees a staff of 18,000 and an annual budget of $26 billion in a department that has broad responsibility for all aspects of health and human services in North Carolina.