The high-tech HPEC

Story by Faith Ulate

Photo by Faith Ulate
Photo by Faith Ulate

The Health Professions Education Center is officially opening its doors for the first day of classes at Whatcom Community College. With shiny new floors, fresh paint, coffee lounges, new classrooms and labs with high-tech equipment including mannequin simulators, this state-of-the art facility will bring the Nursing, Physical Therapy Assisting, and Massage Practitioner programs together under one roof.

“This was a very unique project,” said Nate Langstraat, Vice President for Administrative Services, “because it wasn’t a state- funded project but a collaborative capital project partnered with the college, different foundations, and several key college supporters within the community which has made it a creative way to grow the campus.”

The Whatcom Community College Foundation is leasing the building from the developers, and then sub-leasing the building to the college. This innovative arrangement has allowed for Whatcom to build a new center for the health professions programs without using limited state funding, which Executive Director of the Foundation Anne Bowen said they hope to purchase at some point.

Located at the corner of Stuart Road and Cordata Parkway, the off-campus center will provide large classrooms, labs, storage space and offices and will give students access to the latest technology relating to healthcare, Langstraat said.

To enter the labs, each student must swipe their student I.D. card at the door. Some of the labs are set up like real hospital rooms with beds and mannequin simulators that look and act similar to living people.

Annette Flanders, Director of the Whatcom Nursing Program, said the simulators are both high fidelity and low fidelity. The higher the fidelity, the closer to a life-like human being the simulators are for nursing students to practice on.

“These simulators show vital signs,” said Flanders. “They can have a pulse, a temperature, have respiration, have their blood pressure raised or dropped dramatically, have their pupils dilate, and can even talk and express themselves. Some of these simulators can cost as much as $65,000 each or more.”

Flanders said these simulators are a very important tool for students because they provide a realistic, lifelike experience in a safe setting. A student can prepare psychologically for situations they may encounter in the nursing field.

“If a student was practicing on a real person, there is risk involved,” said Flanders. “You can’t really hurt a simulator.”

Instructors can manipulate the simulators by creating different types of scenarios like making a simulator acutely ill, Flanders said. They can control the vital signs and even use technology to speak through the simulator by microphone, making it seem as if they are live patients. The instructor is hidden behind a one-way mirror so the student will be left with a speaking and feeling simulator and will have to learn how to act and react to it in a hospital-like setting.

“We teach our students to treat the simulators as people and always show them respect,” said Flanders. “The students are not allowed to sit on the beds or lay their books on the beds. We treat this like it is a real life situation.”

Above the hospital beds in the labs, there are monitors where instructors can demonstrate and broadcast to the students. There are new electronic patient lifts for the nursing students to practice on, and since the students treat their studies like a full time job, there are even coffee lounges with kitchenettes to use, Langstraat said.
An open house will be held in November during which students, staff, and other community members interested can walk through and explore the building.

“It’s pretty amazing to think that one year ago we were standing in the middle of a field and now we are standing in a state-of-the art health facility,” said Langstraat, “which is also so convenient because it’s community centric.”

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