Building a Bridge to Education


To address the extreme nursing shortages that exist today and are predicted for the future, long-term care facilities must develop innovative strategies to sustain a quality workforce. NewCourtland Elder Services, a network of six nursing homes for frail elders throughout Philadelphia, is finding ways to advance educational opportunities that allow direct-care workers to grow professionally.

Since its inception, NewCourtland has been laying the groundwork to expand educational and advancement programs for its employees. In 1999, NewCourtland created the PRIDE (Provide Respect, Incentives, career Development and Education) program that features the Ladder of Opportunity, an educational and career advancement program for employees, which grew rapidly. In the Ladder of Opportunity program there are clerical staff and CNAs becoming LPNs, LPNs that are attending classes to become RNs, and RNs achieving advanced nursing degrees. Therapeutic recreation classes also are available for these professionals. Within the program’s first four years, hundreds of employees have taken advantage of the educational and financial opportunities provided by NewCourtland to pursue their personal and career goals.

In the process of growing its own nurses from CNA to CNA Specialist to LPN and beyond, NewCourtland realized that it was running out of space to provide the types of programming and classes necessary to meet its goals.

Why an Education Center?
Because of growing interest in NewCourtland’s employee retention and career development, in January 2003, Gail Kass, president and CEO of NewCourtland, approached the Board of Trustees to ask for funding to build the NewCourtland Education Center. The request was approved and construction of the center began.

In 2004, the Education Center was completed in an existing building on the Germantown Home campus (one of the six nursing homes in the NewCourtland network). The center features more than 41,000 square feet of state-of-the-art classrooms and seminar spaces, high-tech nursing labs, as well as Auten Hall-a 200-seat multipurpose auditorium dedicated to longtime Board Chairman David Auten. The grand opening was held on March 30, 2004.

Information about the Education Center and its grand opening was communicated to the network employees via letters, newsletters, NewCourtland’s Web site, and information sessions. Each of the six nursing homes selected employees to serve as ambassadors during the weeklong grand-opening celebration. They were trained to serve as greeters and tour guides, as well as experts who demonstrated all of the center’s technology offerings to the more than 500 visitors who toured the building that week. These ambassadors were honored to participate in the grand-opening celebrations, and the staff who toured were excited about the possibilities for the Education Center and the future.

The Education Center’s goals are targeted to two key groups in the NewCourtland network-the employees and the elders. The goals are to:

  • provide a learning environment and the resources that enable nursing home staff to grow professionally, increase their job knowledge, and advance their careers in long-term care;
  • develop targeted competencies for staff to meet the complex needs of the resident;
  • provide a learning environment for residents to enrich their quality of life; and
  • enable the Education Center to become an educational hub for regional and national conferences where those who work in long-term care can learn more about eldercare.
Inside the Education Center
The Education Center offers computer-based instruction, computer (user-level) classes, and high-end audiovisual presentation technologies that are integrated with sound and lighting and operated by touch screens. It can also conduct Webcasts.

The center consists of four computer-equipped classrooms, two nursing skills labs, an auditorium, and a seminar room. The nursing skills labs include six beds, which replicate hospital/nursing home settings. The labs have recording/playback equipment and mannequins (for simulated learning instruction). Auten Hall is designed to function as a lecture hall, chapel, or theater to support programs for the elders and students.

The Education Center faculty is comprised of experts in educating adult learners, including healthcare providers and others with varied and diverse backgrounds in healthcare, behavioral health, long-term care, geriatrics, and education. The team includes nurse educators, nursing home administrators, a pharmacist, a social worker, and a registered nurse assessment coordinator. A full-time technology expert assists the faculty in program preparation and presentation. The NewCourtland Education Center also partners with various educational institutions, colleges, and universities throughout the Philadelphia area, such as the 1199C Training and Upgrading School of Practical Nursing, Community College of Philadelphia, Immaculata University and the University of Pennsylvania.

The teacher/student ratio varies depending on the learning needs of the student and method of teaching. A faculty member can work one-on-one with a student on a clinical issue or to provide educational counseling. The center can also reach an audience of hundreds of learners with its e-learning capabilities.

The majority of the educational offerings at the Education Center are open to all NewCourtland network employees, but several programs such as the Nursing Assistant Training Program, the CNA Specialist Program, and the Graduate Practical Nurse(GPN) Fellowship have specific admission criteria. Courses are also available that award continuing education credit hours for registered nurses and nursing home administrators. Interested employees may register to attend the programs through their individual nursing homes. All classes are designed so the employee can work and attend school. Many of the programs permit employees to get paid while they attend the class.

A typical day for each student varies depending on what courses the student is taking. Some of the programs, such as the Nursing Assistant Training and the GPN Fellowship, include classroom and clinical instruction. Other programs are taught in a clinical learning lab and others in the computer learning center. A variety of class schedules is offered to meet the needs of the employees, with classes held during the day and evening hours and periodically on weekends.

How Are We Doing?
In its first year, the NewCourtland Education Center will offer staff from all areas of employment an opportunity to learn and grow. Employees currently enrolled in the Nursing Assistant Training Program are from the housekeeping, laundry, and dietary departments. In the future, people in the community will be able to take advantage of the Education Center’s offerings.

NewCourtland and the staff educators are pleased with the progress of the classes to date. The staff is in the process of completing an education needs assessment tool. The results will be used to design and develop future programs and classes. In addition, a variety of college courses such as English, psychology, and math will be taught to NewCourtland staff on-site. We are also conducting open forums with residents and staff in all of the nursing homes. This feedback will help in planning programs to meet their expressed needs.

Future Plans
The classes currently offered at the Education Center will continue to be updated as the needs of the nursing and long-term care industries change. Classes are now offered only to NewCourtland network employees, but the opportunities for the future are endless. Moving forward, NewCourtland will reach out to include members of the community, develop a high-school initiative program, and expand partnerships with area colleges. NewCourtland plans to incorporate a learning initiative for residents, as well.

NewCourtland CNA graduating class. Photo by Rob Crites.

The Education Center stands apart from other educational institutions because it marks the first time that a long-term care network has developed an entire facility dedicated to the advancement of nursing education and issues related to the field of aging and long-term care. The center was designed as a place for staff to fulfill their educational and career advancement goals. The nursing home administrators actively support all of the employee/students. In addition, the Education Center will grow as the need for nurses and other long-term care workers continues to develop to help care for baby boomers and the growing population of the aging. Places like the Education Center and others are going to become more critical to the future of long-term care.
Kathleen K. Brogan, MSN, MSHEd, RN, is Chief Nursing Officer, and Anna Marshalick, MSN, RN, is a Nurse Educator at NewCourtland Elder Services in Philadelphia. For more information, phone (215) 965-2372. To comment on this article, please send e-mail to For reprints in quantities of 100 or more, call (866) 377-6454.

Climbing the Ladder

Jacky Petrocy has worked at Cheltenham York Road nursing home for the past 20 years. As director of medical records for 11 years, she always dreamed of going back to school but the longer she worked, the harder it was for her to do. “I have always wanted to be a nurse and NewCourtland presented me with the opportunity to realize my dream,” says Petrocy. She obtained the scheduling support and financial assistance she needed and was able to attend LPN school. She is now enrolled in NewCourtland’s Graduate Practical Nurse Fellowship program, which is part of the Ladder of Opportunity and provides additional classroom and clinical instruction to help recently graduated LPNs prepare for their first nursing employment experience.

Robin Ebel discovered the Ladder of Opportunity while riding on a bus. She saw an advertisement about the program and the opportunity for career advancement. To get her foot in the door, Ebel took a job at the Cheltenham York Road facility as a clerical assistant. One of Ebel’s career highlights happened when Director of Nursing Christine Dennis approached her as she was interacting with an elder and told her that Cheltenham York Road needed people like her to go to school and become nurses. “It was important to me to have the support of my family, as well as my coworkers, especially the director of nursing, to help achieve my goal,” says Ebel. “I knew I could do it.” Ebel is currently enrolled in the GPN Fellowship, soon to be an LPN.

For the past year, Tyra Rogers has worked in the NewCourtland network as a housekeeper. Inspired by the nurses she sees every day, Rogers decided that she wanted to care for residents, too. Now in the Nursing Assistant Training Program, Rogers reflects, “NewCourtland made it easy for me.”

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