Oak-Riv_Cohort C Graduation Class

Oakland University Detroit Riverfront Insititute

Health Care Professionals Trained at site of Former Hospital

2012 graduates of Oakland University’s Riverview Institute nursing B.A. program. The Riverview Institute also offers a licensed practical nursing certificate and several other certificate programs in the allied health fields.

Riverview Institute

Opened in 2009

Graduated 610 students to date

100 percent of graduates find jobs

Originally published in the Volume 26, Fall 2012 issue.
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When St. John Riverview Hospital closed its doors in 2007, neighborhood residents faced reduced access to health care services and an empty building on the 17-acre campus was a drag on neighborhood revitalization efforts.

The Community Foundation immediately offered to help St. John’s Health System develop a plan for the property that would benefit the community. With nearly $32 million invested throughout Detroit’s near-east side in recent years, the Community Foundation has helped identify many promising community development opportunities in the face of economic challenges.

When suitable for-profit and non-profit development deals failed to materialize, administrators at Oakland University’s School of Nursing and St. John’s Health System approached the Community Foundation and proposed repurposing a portion of the Riverview building for an ambitious new curriculum the school was developing to educate nurses and allied health professionals.

By locating in Detroit, the university would reach city residents with the kind of high-quality education that would prepare them for plentiful, well-paying jobs in the health care industry — many in their own neighborhoods.

With support from St. John Health System in the form of subsidized rent and a $500,000 grant from the Community Foundation, the Oakland University Board of Trustees approved the program. In June 2009, the Oakland University Riverview Institute, a Center for Excellence in Clinical Education — a 60,000-square-foot facility occupying one floor of the former main hospital — opened its doors to its first student cohort.

To date, more than 610 individuals have graduated from programs that include an accelerated one-year B.S. in nursing for those who already hold a B.A. or B.S. in another field; a licensed practical nursing program; and many other certificate programs for patient care technicians , certified nursing assistants, and life support technicians.

With support from the Community Foundation, a shuttered Detroit hospital is now a model teaching outpost for Oakland University’s School of Nursing.

The Riverview Institute programs are currently filled to capacity and are educating more than 400 students each semester; 90 percent of the students are from Detroit. Program graduates boast a 100 percent exam pass rate, and 100 percent are placed in jobs.

According to one of the program’s architects, Barbara Penprase, associate professor of the School of Nursing at Oakland University and executive director of the Riverview Institute, several things contribute to this success.

First, the programs are affordable and offer quick access to well-paying jobs in nearby hospitals, nursing homes, and rehabilitation facilities. Second, the certificate programs are designed as the first step on a clinical career ladder, giving graduates the option of returning in the future to complete other programs, such as the licensed practical nurse program. Riverview students receive more clinical experience than their peers in competing programs, so employers are willing to pay a premium for these graduates. Finally, the facility is the most technically advanced setting of its kind, offering state-of-the-art training simulators and hospital equipment.

Oakland University professor Barbara Penprase works with a student on a patient simulator at the Riverview Institute.

For students whose academic skills need improvement before they begin the program, Riverview offers tutoring programs throughout the year and conducts a summer preparatory program called Kickstart. A more comprehensive remedial program is available through a partnership with renowned social service provider Focus: HOPE. This intensive program offers computer training, math, reading help, and preliminary anatomy and physiology classes that will prepare many more students for success at Riverview, and will help guide them into high-demand health care careers.

In early 2011, St. John Health System completed the sale of Riverview Hospital to DRSN, a local developer and owner of several nursing homes. A 136-bed, long-term-care facility, Riverview Health and Rehab Center will soon open in the upper floor of the building. It is expected to employ approximately 200 people and will provide training, internship, and employment opportunities for students and graduates of the Riverview Institute.

“The Riverview Institute allows us to help students from diverse backgrounds gain a foothold in the education system,” says Oakland University School of Nursing Dean Kerri Schuiling. “In a relatively short time, it has gotten many traditional and nontraditional students ready for good jobs that meet an important social need. What could be better than that?”

Read an interview with Riverview student, Beverly Pitchford.


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