SMC committed to partnership with local health organization

DOWAGIAC — The longstanding partnership between Southwestern Michigan College and Cass County Medical Care Facility is deeply rooted in community, said SMC officials.

“There’s a lot of history here,” said CCMCF Administrator Merri Terborgh. “The college has been a big part of it. A lot of these folks are from the community, coming to a community-run nursing home, maybe seeing folks they know. They’re always well-groomed, outgoing, professional young people. We established a dress code when I came because it sets a tone. Southwestern does the same. They’re always appropriately attired in green. They make us look good. It’s a good partnership because we need every nurse Southwestern can produce. There’s such a shortage of nurses and aides.”

Terborgh guides a three-shift staff of 140, including 90 nurses and certified aides.

“It’s an awesome facility that gives students good experience,” said faculty member Jeanie Mitchel, who oversees one of two Cassopolis clinical rotations totaling 15 students. “Several in this class fully intend to work here once they finish.”

Starting in January, Foundations of Nursing students spent six weeks in a lab setting learning to work with patients, Mitchel said.

“Bathing, transfer, brushing someone’s teeth, bedpans, positioning for comfort, head-to-toe physical assessments — lung and heart sounds, pulses, neurological, abdominal,” he said of what students learned. “A lot of residents we care for have dementia and can’t tell us what’s going on.”

About 40 nursing students spent six hours Mondays and Tuesdays beginning at 6:30 a.m. at one of four long-term care facilities. While with Mitchel they’ll incorporate wound care in Niles, Cass County Council on Aging’s adult day care and St. Joseph’s PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly), enabling older adults to remain in their homes. Students fulfill 14 rotations by graduation.

“From our perspective, residents get extra attention, which we love and they love,” Terborgh said. “When (students) look for jobs, some will like it enough to go into long-term care. I think sometimes nursing students are attracted to acute care because they think it’s more exciting. Hopefully, by partnering with the college, we can show the real need. You can really make a difference in people’s lives in a place like this.”

Nursing students gain appreciation for contributions by residents in their care, like Johnie Rodebush, 95, who for 43 years served with the Board of Commissioners.

“We take care of him. He is such a nice man,” Mitchel said. “Students really enjoy his reminiscing because he’s so sharp.”

Rodebush not only led the county board, he served as president of the Michigan Association of Counties and ran for Congress.

At a 2004 dinner in his honor at SMC, Rodebush introduced Board Chairman Dr. Fred L. Mathews and recalled going door-to-door promoting creation of a community college as Howard Township PTA president.

“I’m proud to have my name on this place,” Rodebush remarked.

“[His] name is on the plaque in the foyer because he was on the Board of Commissioners when this was built,” noted Terborgh, a social worker who has been administrator for 10 years in October after 11 years at COA, 15 years at Dowagiac’s Borgess-Lee Memorial Hospital and four years in Berrien County as Lakeland Hospital Watervliet’s risk manager. “This was built in 1976 with 80 beds,” she said. “The wings could expand if we ever want. I’ve known Johnie since I started at the COA in the ’80s. It’s a wonderful blast from the past to have him living here.”

On a rainy spring morning, Rodebush sits with his World War II Veteran cap across his lap, tapping his fingertips to the gospel service that current SMC President Dr. David Mathews created in 2003. Mathews’ weekly visits help him stay connected with nursing students and the Cass County community; he taught himself how to play the guitar with help from SMC instructor Mike Davis.

The rest of the group is a community tapestry, attendants said. The Rev. Jim and Anita Braden live in Cassopolis; Rev. Braden runs Michiana Veterans Ministries. Bishop Robert Geans pastored Edwardsburg’s First Pentecostal Church for 36 years before turning it over to his son Robert in March 2015. Bassist Mike Gouker of Niles is a carpenter who made a miraculous recovery after being crushed by a car. Walter Swann boxed in the Navy and coached in Dowagiac in Muhammad Ali’s former ring. Swann, 76, remains committed to youth through the Five-Star Life after-school mentoring program.

“They’re very dependable, a regular part of our activities that adds a lot to the building. Residents like it and you see staff humming along,” Terborgh said. “That’s the fun thing about Cass County. There are so many connections. In fact, here’s another one: our accountant is SMC Board Treasurer Becky Moore.”

Southwestern Michigan College is a public, residential and commuter community college founded in 1964. The college delivers above-average graduation/transfer rates compared to other community colleges nationally and student college-level course success that is consistently in the top 25 percent of two-year colleges nationally. SMC strives to be the college of first choice, to provide the programs and services that meet the needs of students and to serve our community, officials said. The college is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and is a member of the American Association of Community Colleges.

Learn more at swmich.edu or email mediarelations@swmich.edu.

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