Viterbo is Nursing

Rick Artman, President, Viterbo University

We are absolutely jubilant to make this announcement today—it’s been a dream of many for many years. The new building for the School of Nursing is the major new facility identified by the board of trustees in the strategic plan which they approved in 2008.

I wish to recognize members of the board of trustees who are with us today. 

Viterbo is indeed grateful to our founders and sponsors, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, who envisioned and constructed a Catholic college and a Catholic hospital in La Crosse to serve this community. The nursing program at St. Francis Hospital moved to Viterbo in 1967. So, today, we stand on the shoulders of outstanding nurse educators, such as Sr. Grace Clare Beznouz, who set a high standard for future nurses. Not only were they to be exceptionally skilled nurses, they were taught the importance of compassion and care—hallmarks of a Viterbo nurse, then and now.

Viterbo’s outstanding reputation in nursing has likewise developed over the years because we have been able to recruit and retain an excellent faculty. Our reputation has credibility and evidence—over 3,800 nurses have graduated from Viterbo these past 42 years. They have distinguished themselves in hospitals, clinics, community health, the armed forces and as leaders in nursing education and nursing administration.

Today, approximately one third remain in this region, with a significant number working at Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center, Franciscan Skemp Healthcare, Mayo Clinic, and in Marshfield and Madison. Viterbo ranks first in the state in graduating the most baccalaureate prepared nurses of the 20 private colleges and universities in Wisconsin.

Amazingly, this reputation has been achieved in a 27,000 sq. ft. facility that was built in the 1950s as an elementary school. Due to the size and structural limitations of Brophy Nursing Center, we cannot grow our program—in spite of a current shortage of nurses around the country and projections of shortages in the decades ahead.

I also wish to mention the growing interest among prospective students in careers in nutrition and dietetics. The nutrition and dietetics program is an important component of the School of Nursing and has about 60 majors. Viterbo offers the only program in the region with an integrated internship which is necessary to complete before becoming a registered dietician. The new building will include a beautifully appointed foods laboratory.

We often say that Viterbo is nursing. The scale of the Viterbo nursing program is impressive—in total we enroll about 700 students, full and part-time, in the traditional four-year baccalaureate program, the BSN completion program which is available in La Crosse and nine sites throughout the state of Wisconsin and in Rochester, and the master of nursing program which has tracks for the adult nurse practitioner, the family nurse practitioner, and the nurse educator. The School of Nursing also plays a key role in the region’s Parish Nurse Program, and Viterbo is the lead partner in the Healthier Wisconsin Partnership Grant to combat chronic diseases among the underinsured in a four county area.

This new state-of-the-art facility will more than double the size of the current Brophy Nursing Center and will minimally achieve LEED Silver certification. The showcase area will be the four state-of-the-art simulation laboratories. Sim lab technology is revolutionizing medical education, in the same way flight simulators changed the training of pilots.

The new building will join the Fine Arts Center as focal points for the campus entrance on Jackson and an eventual upgrade of 10th Street for the thousands of visitors to the Viterbo and Franciscan Skemp campuses.

Our architect, HGA and our contractor, C.D. Smith have worked closely with the faculty and are committed to employing local subcontractors for this project. It’s my pleasure to recognize Chris Schmidt of C.D. Smith, construction manager. We are grateful for their expertise and their ongoing efforts to provide great value as well as functional spaces that incorporate our Catholic and Franciscan values and traditions, such as the healing garden and heritage room.

The new building for the School of Nursing will enable Viterbo to achieve a 25 percent increase in enrollments in our various nursing programs over the next five years. This is exciting for the university and for the health care employers in our region. 

Health care and education are primary drivers of the economy in the Coulee Region and the quality of health care is a key ingredient in our quality of life—no doubt it was an important metric in the reason La Crosse was rated by U.S. News & World Report as one of the best 10 cities in which to live. 

Any of us who has been a patient or has had loved ones in the health care system, knows the important role of the nurse—and as health care changes due to technology, government policy, and an aging population, the roles of the nurse and nurse educators become much more critical in the delivery of quality health care.

I wish to acknowledge the generosity of our benefactors, the FSPA, trustees, former trustees, and friends of the university who have contributed or pledged nearly $12 million to this project. I especially wish to thank the co-chairs of this campaign, trustee Ernie Micek, former president of Cargill, and trustee Dick Lommen, chairman of Courtesy Corporation. 

So today we celebrate our progress with pride and confidence. As we move into the public phase of the campaign, we are confident our alumni, foundations, and friends will help us to complete this project.