Pittsburg State University has announced it is beginning to reopen its facilities as coronavirus restrictions ease, as well as the launch of new initiatives including a recovery task force being organized with other Crawford County stakeholder groups, and the start of the first nurse practitioner residency program in southeast Kansas this week.

Reopening outdoor facilities

PSU has started the process of reopening facilities to the public, starting with outdoor facilities, as county-wide restrictions related to COVID-19 begin to relax.

“Our county is opening back up, and outdoor recreation is a good thing if done with safe practices in place,” Jim Johnson, director of intercollegiate athletics, said in a press release. “Our students and our community are ready to be outside, and we have great facilities that enable it.”

As of Monday, Carnie Smith Stadium, soccer fields, outdoor basketball courts, intramural softball fields, and sand volleyball courts have opened. Baseball and softball fields can be reserved by contacting Lacie Anderson at landerson@pittstate.edu.

Most other facilities will remain closed for now, although the university is preparing for a broader reopening of facilities this summer. Johnson noted that PSU expects users of the outdoor spaces to take personal responsibility for their health and those around them.

“This means adhering to all public health guidelines that will slow or stop the spread of COVID-19: social distancing, good hygiene, and staying home when sick,” he said.

Recovery Task Force

PSU announced on Friday that a new group of key stakeholders from throughout Crawford County will focus on taking a coordinated approach when it comes to the safe reopening and recovery of communities and the economy throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Called the Crawford County Recovery Task Force, the group was created by the Joint City University Advisory Board, which was started by the City of Pittsburg and PSU in 2016, modeled after a similar agreement between Clemson University and the City of Clemson, South Carolina.

Following an initial planning meeting last Thursday via Zoom, the group will continue to meet weekly, with meetings in the future moving to a conference room when it’s deemed safe and appropriate to do so. The group aims to enable county entities, including governmental bodies, public health, K-12 and higher education, the business community, the tourism industry, and agencies focused on the economy, to plan and communicate with each other.

“If we’re going to safely and successfully manage the county’s reopening and recovery, it will take a coordinated approach and a great deal of connectivity among the key stakeholders,” PSU Chief Strategy Officer Shawn Naccarato, who is co-chairing the group, said in a release.

Pittsburg Deputy City Manager Jay Byers, the other co-chair, said a safe recovery plan depends on coordination.

“Our goal is to make the economy fully functional again without risking further business restrictions,” Byers said. “The best way to avoid another shutdown is to collaborate with our business community and ensure a safe recovery.”

Initial membership will include representation from the Crawford County Commission, Crawford County Public Health, local hospitals, the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce and the Girard Area Chamber of Commerce, Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg’s Small Business Development Center, the Kansas State Department of Commerce, the cities of Arma, Frontenac, Girard, and Pittsburg, the Pittsburg Community School District, and the Crawford County Convention & Visitor Bureau.

The task force will share information and resources with the public in coming weeks and invite the public to submit questions and concerns they’d like the task force to address.

Nurse practitioner residency program

Monday marked the official start of the first nurse practitioner residency program for the Irene Ransom Bradley School of Nursing at Pittsburg State University — the first such program in Southeast Kansas.

The program is being funded by a $2.3 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It will span four years; the first year, which started last summer and ends June 30, was dedicated to planning, while the next three years will feature one-year rotations and training for a total of 18 residents.

The grant also will help fund telehealth equipment and training — a vital tool in rural areas and essential through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mayra Watson, one of the residents starting in the program Monday, has been a registered nurse for six years and has worked in healthcare for over twice that long, she said.

“Today’s actually my first day so it’s very exciting,” said Watson, who grew up in the Joplin area. “It’s actually an amazing opportunity. The other closest place that has a residency program is out of Springfield, so my husband and I, we have a small farm, and I want to stay rural, just because rural healthcare is something that is so underserved, underappreciated and underfunded.”

Medical partners in the residency program include the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, Ascension Via Christi, and Girard Medical Center. There are currently very few nurse practitioner residency programs in the Midwest.

“The demand for primary care services in rural areas is increasing, and family nurse practitioners are prepared to provide comprehensive primary care services to help fill the gap,” project director Amy Hite, an associate professor of nursing at PSU and grant coordinator, said in a release.

The program will focus on clinical preparations related to the opioid crisis, improved access to mental health, and utilizing telehealth for rural patient care — all issues of importance in Southeast Kansas, according to Hite, who also works in area emergency departments and has seen first-hand the impact of those issues on area residents.

Besides the new residency program, PSU also recently announced its RN to BSN (Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing) program has been named the best online RN to BSN program in Kansas by RegisteredNursing.org.

“The BSN degree opens doors to specialized nursing careers in surgery, emergency room, and pediatric nursing,” Gena Coomes, an assistant professor who helps to coordinate the online program, said in a release. “It prepares nurses to become shift leaders, nurse directors, and clinical managers. It also allows nurses to pursue an advanced degree after completing the BSN.”