Interview with Ron May

By Linda Crerar

Back in June, I interviewed Ron May, Dean of Health and Technology at Pierce College. It was great talking with Ron about the EMS and Fire degree programs. He provided incredible insight and knowledge about the degree program’s plans and goals, along with Pierce College’s new building for the Dental Hygiene and Vet Tech Programs.

Linda:  We will be featuring YuVonne Bailey-Navarrette, Pierce College’s EMS Program Manager and Joseph (Joey) Dilley, the Fire Programs Program Manager for the BAS, AA, and Apprenticeship Programs in our Confluence News Magazine.

You are the Dean of their Programs, and I would like to know more about them. Let’s start with the Fire Program and the new legislation that the state is involved with regarding wildfire training and education.

Ron:  I think that they have their fire academies where that’s occurring.

That would not be the Pierce College training because our program is the fire services leadership and management. So we’re looking more at the leadership side of things; indeed, wildfires from a leadership standpoint need to be addressed.  I suspect Joey is addressing that.

Linda:  The actual language in the legislation talks about workforce development. The existing legislation is House Bill 1168, which focuses on workforce development focused on long-term forest health and reducing wildfire dangers. It says DNR, jointly with the Department of Commerce and consulting with the Centers of Excellence, Secondary and Higher Education, and the Workforce Development Centers must develop and implement initiatives to address the forest health workforce.  It includes developing a tracking plan, maintaining and publicly reporting on specific items related to the development of workforce initiatives.

Ron: The legislation is comprehensive, and at this time, we do not have any involvement with developing a plan. I don’t know how they plan to do that with no money attached to it.

Linda: Yes, the State Board and the state agencies did not get any money.

Ron: So, really, it sounds to me like they need to have some person who will be managing this whole thing. I think that they need to address forest health, but someone needs to help pull together the different elements that are there. As an educational institution, we certainly can speak in those conversations about providing programming and support. I am sure that the Department of Natural Resources will have the authority to bring the many different agencies involved together to develop a plan.  It will be good to look holistically and think about what the fire programs and the community colleges could bring to the table with continuing education. We could do something that will not necessarily cost us a lot of money and help build our communities’ resilience. This is all part of the continuous improvement with our programs; indeed, we need to incorporate the forest health piece into it.

Our fire leadership program primarily deals with the urban area, but I know that Joey does have some wildland curriculum in the program and we can look at it from a leadership standpoint. So, we need to be looking at it from training for the individual firefighter. Once again, the legislating will be at the level of the academies and on the leadership and management side. We need to go ahead and have that as strategic plans for all of our fire departments. So we’ve got to have better communication and networking throughout the state and the counties in the state, along with the state agencies.

The challenge education has run into is fire programs are not relatively standardized from a training standpoint. Fire departments are trying to adjust what they do depending on their community and county needs and requirements. So I think there is a movement to standardize at the national level state level.

Linda: It is essential that our colleges are aware, concerned, and getting our faculty involved to be part of the community and help build that resilience.

Ron: The things we have been focusing on may need to change in the future because I think that forest health will undoubtedly get more important to us as time goes on with climate change. It’s hard to be ahead of the game, but we certainly need be responsive to that. We need to go ahead and address that in new ways for our nation. We need to be part of the communication planning and find out what our contribution should be to them, or if we need to expand that to move forward.

Linda: We will be talking to Joey so he can highlight all of the fire programs from around the state and the resources that are available for preparedness. Joey is strategically placed because he has the BA degree to facilitate leadership in this realm.

Ron: Yeah. The very idea is to get students thinking as leaders, be forward-looking, and be strategic in how they’re approaching their work. That’s a real challenge because that is very reactive by the very nature of the fire service. You’ve got a fire alarm going off, you find out where you’re going, and you have to react to that emergency. So Joey is trying to get them to think in more of a long-term kind of strategic type of way. And certainly, this house bill is addressing that as well. How can we prevent the fires and discuss how we can respond in a much more strategic way when a fire does arise? I think that Joey is very strategic in his approach and trying to instill that in the students.

Linda:  Thank you, Ron. That was a good discussion, and I look forward to working with you and Joey on the implementation of this bill and where we go in the future.

So now I’d like to switch to another topic —your EMS Program with YuVonne. I know we’re going to highlight that program and talk about what you’re doing with the articulation agreement with Central Washington University.

Ron:  YuVonne is the prime mover; if I can use that word. She’s the person that has been pushing the EMS program expansion. This has been her vision for about 10 years. It is wonderful for us to see the fruition of that. Some details still need to be worked out from the Central Washington side of things. Our lab training still occurs on their campus, but we certainly have the articulation to allow students to move into Central Washington seamlessly with a Bachelor’s in science and paramedics in place. We still have some logistical challenges to get labs on this side of the state. Most of that bachelor’s program is online, but they need to commute to Ellensburg for one day a week if they get accepted into that program for the lab work.

Yuvonne is an incredible individual. She has excellent attention to detail, and is outstanding about following through, which I certainly appreciate. I think beyond that; it is her passion. She has a passion for the field of Emergency Medical Services and student/employee success.  She is very supportive of the folks in verse, staff, faculty, and other staff members that are supporting the Emergency Medical Services Program.

YuVonne is also a visionary; as I said before. She’s been working on this particular piece for quite some time so she is aware of the industry and where the field is moving. I think that she sees the movement of professionalism where the expectation is for folks in this field to have continuing education.

With that in mind, we have to open up the opportunities for students to receive their Bachelor’s degree. It’s so vitally important for us to have an easy path for students to get their EMT basic, their associate’s degree, and their bachelor’s degree.  We also need to think about what about graduate programs are needed beyond the bachelor’s degree. In many cases, once the students get on campus with the EMT basic, they learn how exciting it is for them to know and discover the opportunities available to move forward. They can realize, “Hey, I can go on, I can get my associates and bachelors.” Currently Central asks students to think about further graduate programs.

Linda: And of course, the other thing that Pierce is working on is the new building right now. Do you want to talk about that and how that will help our different programs, particularly the EMT program?

Ron: Sure. We have a new building coming to our Fort Steilacoom campus. The new facility, which is a standalone building, will house Veterinary Technology and Dental Hygiene and should be completed in January of 2022. The second phase will be the renovation of the Cascade Building which currently houses Dental Hygiene and events. The building should be complete by the winter quarter of 2023. The newly renovated Cascade Building will house the EMS department. That’s a fascinating thing because for the first time in, what is it 20-25 years, EMS will have a space that has been designed for them so they will finally feel like they have a permanent home. With them in that space, we will have dedicated simulation space that everyone can use (the simulation lab for UMass). There will be, I believe, two simulated ambulances that are there. They will have a hospital bed and a residential bed to simulate emergencies that are taking place at home and at the hospital. It’s going to be a very interactive space for students in the 21st-century by combining virtual reality to give students a hands-on experience with six simulation bays.

Linda: In looking at demand, as far as healthcare demand, what are you seeing as far as the growth in this area?

Ron: You know, healthcare demand is always going to be increasing. The COVID pandemic has compounded and that certainly has complicated that enormously. We’ve got a lot more healthcare workers who are retiring out of the field because of all the stress associated with the pandemic. From not getting enough PPE to doing all of the overtime hours that have stressed out the whole healthcare system, it grows so many different ways.

Ironically enough, one of the bottlenecks of increasing graduation rates is clinical site availability. So that’s the piece that is stopping what we have in being able to fulfill the demand from students. Hundreds of nursing students at Pierce College want to get into nursing, but we only have 40 spots available. Dental hygiene only has 20 spots and we have probably 100 students trying to get into that program. We have the demand and can go ahead and bring them into the programs, but we don’t have clinical site availability. Expanding our health care programs is very problematic because of those pieces so you don’t set up people for failure.

I can’t even imagine the future having the volume that is occurring now and the toll it takes psychologically on our healthcare workers. I’m amazed that you know these people are still at it and are incredibly dedicated.

Linda: Ron, I appreciate you and your faculty. It’s evident that you are very supportive, and you know and care about what they’re doing and encouraged their work. And so, I will end our conversation with that.

Thank you so much.

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