STATE V. HIGHER ED?

In the weeks leading up to now, we’ve seen on TV and even on the pages of this newspaper how so many people have been grateful for the people on the front lines battling COVID-19. Whether it’s in clapping for healthcare workers, car caravans to show appreciation to those who work at Alaris or groups sending lunches to first responders, it’s been wonderful to see people coming together for those who are risking their lives, every single day, because of this pandemic.

But we got to thinking.

What about the people who work behind the scenes in healthcare settings, mostly in hospitals.

Many of the people who work in positions not occupied by doctors and nurses still have to be well trained at places like Nutley’s Eastwick College.

We keep hearing about employees being burnt out. We hear about the possibility of a mass exodus of employees once this pandemic begins to settle.

So what happens when these positions open up? What happens when the students who are waiting in the wings for these jobs — and who are educated at Eastwick College — can’t get their licenses because for the past two-plus months, they’ve learned their theory in online environments, but who have missed hundreds of hours of in-person, hands-on, laboratory training?

We spoke with Thomas Eastwick, the founder and president of Eastwick College. He says he’s been kept in absolute limbo by the State of New Jersey as to what the next step might be and/or when his students will be able to get back into these labs to get the required hours needed for licensure.

We spoke with Eastwick just a few days ago, on the phone, on Friday, May 8.

“The labs are closed,” Eastwick said. “We’ve asked that we be able to open up the labs, with five students at most in the lab, but so far, it’s not been approved.”

Those labs, shut down for nearly three months now, include post-secondary students studying fields like diagnostic cardiovascular sonography, ultrasound technology, mortuary sciences, OB/GYN diagnostic medical sonography, medical billing, occupational therapy assistantships and licensed-practical nursing among countless other fields, many of which are in medicine.

Eastwick says there is no way to grant a license to, say, someone studying ultrasound technology, because students are well below the 960 hours required to get one.

With no information about when he might be able to gradually re-open the college, Eastwick says he’s frustrated — his students are, too — and he hopes Gov. Philip D. Murphy begins to look at a school like his as he does businesses with Eastwick being “essential.”

“We’re different. We’re not like a Yale University,” Eastwick said. “Campuses need to be treated the way businesses have been.” And, as of now, Eastwick says that’s not happening.

In some cases, where a trade is involved, Eastwick says those students aren’t learning new things at all since they’re taught, 100%, hands-on.

Because of this plight of frustration for Eastwick, we contacted the Office of the Governor.

We asked what the state was doing — or planning to do — for schools like Eastwick that need the in-person training. What we learned was quite surprising.

According to Nicole Kirgan, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education for the State of New Jersey, the state made an announcement on March 17 that allowed all post-secondary schools to apply for exemptions to the closure of all schools statewide. The announcement was supposedly sent to all institutions of higher learning.

“Institutions can apply for a waiver through the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education (OSHE) to allow in-person instruction on a case-by-case basis where a compelling rationale exists,” Kirgan said. “More information on our waiver process can be found at nj.gov/highereducation/documents/pdf/index/OSHE_Waiver%20Process_3.17.20.pdf.

“OSHE has fielded several of these waiver requests, and our office is available to work with institutions experiencing extenuating circumstances.

“ .. OSHE also issued guidance about how institutions can continue instruction during the pandemic … It states that for lab work, institutions should consider virtual methods of instruction, including but not limited to virtual simulation activities. Institutions should postpone lab work or clinical activities if a safe, appropriate educational alternative cannot be implemented and ensure that students are not penalized for the delay.”

All of this said, in a follow-up call with Eastwick, he says he only learned about the exemption late last week, nearly two months after the exemption was announced by the state.

“From what we understand, they usually reject the initial request and then we have to go back with more,” he said, noting that Eastwick is preparing to submit its request for a waiver Monday, May 11, seven full weeks after the concept was announced.

Eastwick says it would be great even if he’s allowed to have minimal students to get back into labs, so they can get caught up in time for graduation. He estimates that alone, at his Ramsey campus in upper Bergen County, there are 800 students who are losing out on hands-on training.

If the waiver isn’t approved, there will be scores of students for whom he won’t be able to get jobs. And job placement is an essential component of an Eastwick education.

“We’re very concerned for the soon-to-be graduates,” Eastwick said.

He says he’s been working 10 hours a day, trying his best to get answers. And, like us, he’s concerned that there is going to be a large turnover from the stress and strain caused by working in healthcare settings during the worst pandemic in modern times.

“We’ve been patient and things have changed drastically,” Eastwick said. “It’s not just us — it’s happening in K-12, colleges and universities, graduate schools. Everyone is facing a totally different world.”

And while it may take a while before the day comes when a class of, say, 30 students is a possibility, he hopes the day does come again.

“We’ll get there but there will have to be a full, mandatory vaccine,” he said. “It will be a must that every gets the vaccine. No exemptions.”

Still, none of this matters if the current students can’t get their licenses.

Maybe we’ll know, soon. And if and when we do, we’ll let you know, too.

Aside from its local campus in Nutley, Eastwick College, established in 1985, also educates students in Ramsey, Hackensack and Paterson. Its total enrollment is approximately 2,500. Visit www.eastwick.edu.

Learn more about the writer ...

Editor & Broadcaster at | + posts

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.