By Garrett Leahy
After recent cuts announced Friday Feb. 26 by the Board of Trustees, registered nursing faculty say that the move brings the department ever closer to losing their status as an approved program by the Board of Registered Nursing (BRN).
This approval status of City College’s RN program, also sometimes internally referred to as the program’s accreditation, is incredibly important, as it is this status which allows students of the program to become registered nurses allowed to practice in California. Students in, and graduating from, programs not approved by the BRN cannot work as registered nurses in California hospitals.
“You can’t function unless you’re approved,” said Maureen Noonan, a full-time instructor in City College’s registered nursing program. “We can’t be open if we’re not approved.”
If the Board of Nursing finds that City College’s registered nursing program is in non-compliance with the requirements around remaining an approved program, City College’s RN program could have its approval revoked, or be put “on warning”, with its approval to be revoked a year thereafter if substantive changes to bring the program back into compliance have not occurred.
While there are no layoffs slated for the registered nursing program — all four Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) layoffs will be issued to full-time faculty in the Licensed Vocational Nursing program — the layoffs could result in the permanent loss of coveted clinical positions in San Francisco hospitals currently held by City College, according to Noonan.
“If our program size is reduced it is highly unlikely that this will be temporary,” said Noonan during the Feb. 25 Board of Trustees meeting. “We have a long-standing relationship with the hospitals in the city, and we have been able to secure clinical placements in San Francisco despite the highly competitive environment. If we give up any of these sites, they will be immediately filled by other programs and we will not be able to get them back in the future,” said Noonan.
The loss of these clinical programs could affect the College’s nursing program’s BRN-approved status, because, according to the BRN’s regulations for nursing schools under CCR Section 1424, RN programs must “have sufficient resources, including faculty, library, staff and support services, physical space and equipment, including technology, to achieve the program’s objective”, and on-site clinical practice is critical to becoming a registered nurse.
This latest blow comes on top of another issue which threatens the RN program’s BRN-approved status: a long-time shortage of full-time faculty within City College’s registered nursing department. This may, in the eyes of the Board, constitute understaffing in the department, which could place City College’s registered nursing program in non-compliance with the BRN’s regulations for approval, according to Giusto.
Currently, the department has eight full-time faculty out of the thirteen full-timers needed to remain in good standing with the BRN. There are currently three vacancies for full-time instructors in medical-surgical, one in pediatrics, and one in maternal-infant, according to Debra Giusto, Interim Director of the Registered Nursing Department at City College.
The issue, according to Giusto, is largely in part because of the high salaries registered nurses command in the Bay Area, making those positions often more lucrative than working at the college, particularly due to the high cost of living in the Bay Area.
Furthermore, most of the department is part-timers, with 30 part-time faculty compared to the RN department’s eight full-time faculty, and part-timers can be more readily laid off by the college’s administration, as they do not require pink-slips and therefore cannot contest their layoffs.
There has been a high demand for nurses for years now, due to the aging population in the US, and COVID-19 has only heightened the issue, as the need for nurses is made clearer than ever before in the midst of the deadly pandemic.
“Nurses have been the bravest heroes throughout this pandemic … yet you will approve cutting nursing classes and eliminating nursing faculty, which will lead to a loss of accreditation for this program … we may be eliminating a highly-regarded program by seeing that it doesn’t have sufficient faculty to meet its accreditation,” said Darlene Alioto, president of the Department Chair Council, during the Feb. 25 Board of Trustees meeting.
Given that nursing is a high-paying job, particularly in Northern California, and does not suffer as acutely from economic recessions as other jobs, accreditation loss could deal an extra hard blow to low-income or otherwise disadvantaged students, who rely on City College’s accessible nursing program to attain stable, high-paying careers.
For now, Giusto said that they are continuing to work with the administration to increase staffing within the registered nursing program to bring the number of full-time faculty within acceptable levels per the BRN’s regulations.
“We are working, currently, with the administration on these full-time positions, and we want to be in compliance and they want us to be in compliance too. We don’t ever want [losing approval] to happen,” said Giusto.
Rosie Zepeda, Director of Media at City College of San Francisco said in an email that the BRN-approved status of City College’s registered nursing program is not in danger, calling notions otherwise a “rumor”.
“I want to state the fact that our Nursing Program is not losing its accreditation and how damaging it is to the program if we do not dispel these rumors. That program is in good standing,” said Zepeda.
Indeed, for now, it is not on notice. The Board of Nursing has not said that City College’s accreditation is at risk, but the Board has not yet reviewed the College’s registered nursing program, which is set to occur next in Spring 2022.
The Board of Registered Nursing was asked whether City College’s registered nursing program is at-risk of losing its BRN-approved status if its non-compliance with BRN regulations persists, and has yet to respond as of press time.