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See how NE Georgia Health System’s new learning lab gives nurses a high-tech way to learn patient care
High-tech simulation helps hospital staff, Brenau students prepare for emergencies
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Kaila Burt, a nursing resident at the Northeast Georgia Health System, listens to her fellow registered nursing residents at the new Learning Lab at Lanier Park.

The mannequins at the new Learning Lab at Lanier Park, which the Northeast Georgia Health System opened this month, are so lifelike their eyes dilate, their chests heave in breath and they can even talk.

So don’t call it a dummy.

These high-tech mannequins allow young hospital nurses to hone their clinical skills, such as performing basic assessments and practicing “code blue” life-threatening situations.

And the “simulation” lab allowed prenursing students at Brenau University in Gainesville to continue their studies uninterrupted after residual water damage locked them out of classrooms at the Featherbone Communiversity for a short time earlier this month.

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Tina Hayes straightens the bedding used with a mannequin simulating a pregnant mother giving birth at the Northeast Georgia Health System's Learning Lab at Lanier Park on Thursday, Sept. 20.

A small fire set off the sprinkler system in the pottery studio area at the Interactive Neighborhood for Kids, which adjoins the Communiversity, and flooding consumed most of the back portion of the nonprofit children’s play museum.

The opportunity to have Brenau students work out of the learning lab before returning to their regular classrooms was more beneficial than anyone expected.

“It truly reaffirmed the partnership that we have ... when you’re going through a little bit of a challenge like we were that week,” said Dina Hewett, professor and director of Brenau’s Mary Inez Grindle School of Nursing.

Christina Van Den Handel, clinical simulation coordinator for the Northeast Georgia Health System, said whether it’s students or registered nurses, the learning lab provides an opportunity for continuing education.

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Christina Van Den Handel, pictured Thursday, Sept. 20, is one of the clinical simulation coordinators at the Northeast Georgia Health System Learning Lab at Lanier Park in Gainesville. The lab was host to students from Brenau University after water damage closed the school’s campus at Featherbone Communiversity.

For example, the facility has simulation equipment to train nurses and students in how to manage patients in an intensive care unit where they may have to resuscitate a mannequin, or in a neonatal intensive care unit helping deliver a mock newborn baby.

“The bottom line for us is the patients and the community,” Van Den Handel said. “So any way we can intersect the educational and enhance that development (of nurses) is always what we try to accomplish.”

Hewett said this new learning lab would help inform Brenau leaders as they plan to develop a similar simulation and training center on campus.

The health care industry is one of the leading employers in Hall County, with the Northeast Georgia Medical Center alone employing 7,900 workers in 2017.

From nurses to physicians’ assistants to physical therapists, health care jobs are among the fastest growing workforce sectors in the state, according to the Georgia Department of Labor.

Both the Northeast Georgia Health System and Brenau University have jumped on these trends to help educate the health care workforce of the future with innovative collaborations. The medical center, for example, opened a wing at the Gainesville hospital last year for a state-of-the-art residency program for medical school graduates.

Brenau, meanwhile, now has a doctorate-level family nurse practitioner program; has increased faculty size and student enrollment in the nursing school; and this year graduated its first class of physical therapy students.

Brenau has also applied for accreditation for an independent physicians’ assistant undergraduate program that requires a year of specialty training after graduation that would be operated in partnership with the Northeast Georgia Health System. 

“That’s what we do as health care professionals — we’re going to jump in and help each other out as soon as we can,” Hewett said. “That’s just the nature of what we do every single day.”

Van Den Handel said that education is her passion, and it’s imperative to connect and train continually, which the new learning lab allows.

“Whatever we can do to unify that system, we try to do,” she added.

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