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BHS and Elms College Collaborate on New Nursing Education Program
January 8, 2008



PITTSFIELD, MA – Berkshire Health Systems has joined with Elms College of Chicopee to provide advanced nursing education in Pittsfield for Registered Nurses employed by BHS affiliates, to advance their education and achieve a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Under the new initiative, Elms College will bring its highly respected baccalaureate nursing program to Pittsfield, utilizing classroom facilities at the Berkshire Medical Center Hillcrest Campus. BHS will pay full tuition and fees for the nurses participating in the program, and will also provide an eight-hour reduction in their weekly work schedules, with no loss of pay, allowing the students additional time for studies and personal commitments. By holding the classes in Pittsfield and at a BHS facility, the participating RNs can pursue their advanced education without disruption to their careers or personal lives.

The program is open to Registered Nurses who work at Berkshire Medical Center, Fairview Hospital and the long-term care facilities of Berkshire Healthcare Systems (BHCS). In its first year, the new program has accepted 15 Registered Nurses, selected from a large field of applicants, who will take classes in Pittsfield and work toward achieving their Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from Elms College.

“What Berkshire Health Systems is doing for employees like me is unheard of,” said Susan Towles, an RN with 17 years experience and the Quality Improvement Manager for Berkshire Healthcare Systems (BHCS). Towles is one of the 15 nurses accepted in the first round of the program. “Several employers have limited tuition reimbursement, which doesn’t even begin to offset the costs of continuing nursing education. BHS is covering all of my costs and provides me with release time from work, which almost sounded too good to be true. This opportunity is just phenomenal.”

Karen Fusini, RN, works on 5 South at Berkshire Medical Center and said this is the second time Berkshire Health Systems has aided in her nursing education. Starting her nursing career as a Licensed Practical Nurse, she was accepted in the Nursing Critical Shortage program at BHS, which provided full tuition and fee reimbursement for her to attain her associate’s degree in nursing. When she heard about the opportunity to further her education through the BHS/Elms BSN program, she jumped at the chance. “You couldn’t ask for a better program,” she said, pointing to factors such as work release time and the classes being taught in Pittsfield. “I have two children, so for me this program is wonderful, allowing me to focus on my studies and still manage my work commitment and personal life. Berkshire Health Systems as a whole has been very generous and very supportive.”

“This program, and the support from Berkshire Health Systems is an excellent opportunity for me,” said Lauren Whitney, RN, a nurse in the 3 East Surgical Unit at Berkshire Medical Center. “This program allows me to balance my studies and work obligations, and the fact that the classes are here is great.”

“Berkshire Health Systems has invested significantly in recent years in its people, programs and technology, and this new and innovative program is another expansion of the commitment we have made to our employees and our community,” said David E. Phelps, President of Berkshire Health Systems. “We have been fortunate, in a very challenging healthcare climate nationally, to have achieved financial stability that can be reinvested in programs like this. Facing a national nursing shortage, Berkshire Health Systems has been on the leading edge in developing programs that have helped us to educate and prepare new Registered Nurses. This new program expands on that effort to offer an innovative BSN program for advanced nursing education. Having a partner like Elms College, with such a respected nursing education program, and bringing this program physically to Pittsfield is an enormous step in our efforts to retain our exceptional workforce and provide our community with the best nursing care.”

James H. Mullen Jr., President of Elms College said, “Elms College is very excited to join in this partnership with Berkshire Health Systems. Our partnership represents the best of the Elms College mission – academic excellence as reflected by our nationally regarded nursing program and a commitment to reaching out to serve the needs of our region. We thank Berkshire Health Systems for their collegiality and we look forward to providing advanced education for their nursing staff. ”

“This blend of on-site classes, work release time, fully paid tuition and fees and current job retention allows our nurses to pursue advanced education that otherwise may be logistically impossible,” said Helen Downey, RN, Chief Operating Officer of Berkshire Medical Center. “This kind of continuing advanced education helps to promote critical thinking about the highly complex situations that we as healthcare providers encounter today. This program will help to cultivate future leaders and allows us to provide enhanced leadership in nursing management and nursing education.”

The classes in Pittsfield will begin in January of 2008 and will be led by Suzanne Barenski, Assistant Director for RN Studies and Assistant Professor of Nursing at Elms College. Barenski received her initial RN education at the former St. Luke’s School of Nursing in Pittsfield. She has a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science from Russell Sage College and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Massachusetts. Barenski will be joined at BMC by specialty faculty from Elms during the course of the program.

Applicants for the program must be employed for at least one year at BMC, Fairview or BHCS and must have a minimum of a 24-hour per week commitment and must have completed pre-requisites and qualifying requirements of the Elms College. The successful candidates must remain in the employ of Berkshire Health Systems during the Elms College enrollment. Participants are expected to be enrolled in courses every semester throughout the school period. Following the successful completion of the program, all participants will remain employed at BMC, Fairview or a BHCS facility for a minimum of two years after graduation.

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