Belmont Abbey College readies itself for first nursing students

Belmont Abbey College readies itself for first nursing students

Belmont Abbey College will have its first official nursing students in the fall as it moves forward with plans to become a pipeline of talent for CaroMont Health and its new Belmont hospital under construction next-door.

But while that first official class of 40 nursing students are rising sophomores now, the private Catholic college operated by Benedictine monks has spent the last several years preparing to start its nursing program by making upgrades in laboratories, classrooms and equipment.

CaroMont Health and Belmont Abbey College agreed to partner in May 2019. Part of that agreement led to the Southern Benedictine Society agreeing to allow CaroMonth Health to build a hospital adjacent to its Belmont Abbey College campus. In return, CaroMont Health would help the college start a nursing program.

“When we thought about this coming together for CaroMont Health and Belmont Abbey College, it was a godsend,” CaroMont Vice President Del Murphy told a group of Belmont Abbey College supporters at a gathering Wednesday.

About 100 people attended the meeting dubbed a “Celebration of Philanthropy in Nursing and the Health Sciences at Belmont Abbey College.” It was a chance for not only the college to thank some of its biggest donors, but also to offer an update on how the college has moved forward with its plans for a nursing program.

Some of those attending the celebration took tours to see the improvements in the physics, biology and chemistry classrooms on the Belmont Abbey College campus and the new nursing classrooms, which will be located across Wilkinson Boulevard at the former Sacred Hearts College campus.

The event also honored seven groups — the Cannon Foundation, CaroMont Health, the Dickson Foundation, Gaston Community Foundation, alumni George and Susan Horner, retired CaroMont Heath Dr. Peter and Betty Ann Wittenberg, and the Southern Benedictine Society — which have combined to give the college more than $10 million over the past few years for its science and nursing programs.

Belmont Abbey College President William Thierfelder and Dean of Nursing Carolyn S. Harmon tour the college's new nursing classrooms on Wednesday, June 8, 2022. The college will officially begin its nursing program in the fall.

“Big things get done when groups of people come together and each make a significant contribution,” said Phil Brach, vice president of college relations.

The college continues to move toward full accreditation. The college will also begin a program in January which will allow current registered nurses to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Nationwide nursing shortages have grown worse since the Covid-19 pandemic, with health care workers experiencing burnout and increased demands, said Carolyn Harmon, the nursing program’s first dean.

She sees Belmont Abbey’s nursing program as a way to not only help individuals pursuing careers, but also the entire Gaston County community.

“I hope none of you has been personally touched by the nursing shortage,” she told the group. “If we stand here and do nothing, it will touch us personally.”

When completed sometime late in 2023, the new Belmont hospital will contain 265,000 square feet spread out over five floors. Included in that space will be 66 hospital beds, including 54 inpatient beds and a 12-bed observation unit. The hospital will cost about $195 million to construct.

In addition to the new medical center, a 100,000 square feet medical office complex with four floors is also being constructed on the 28.1-acre medical campus. Its estimated cost is put at $40 million.

CaroMont estimates that some 16,000 patients will visit the new facility the first year it is open, with that number expected to rise to 30,000 by its third year of operation.

CaroMont also expects the new facility to employ at least 150 people in a variety of health care and support positions.

Monks started Belmont Abbey College started in 1876 with just two students now has more than 1,500 students. The college also plans to offer seven new graduate degrees in 2023.