California's medical community came out in force Thursday night to attack efforts by UCLA Chancellor Charles E. Young to abolish the university's undergraduate School of Nursing.
Among the critics at a hearing on the budget-driven proposal to cut the nursing school were the administrator of a Skid Row mission, state nursing regulators, numerous representatives of hospitals and health maintenance organizations and local physicians.
Young announced the proposal, which would also reduce graduate nursing programs, last June as part of a package of budget cuts to downsize and restructure programs in the schools of nursing, architecture, public health, library science and social welfare. He hopes to save $8 million annually.
The campus hearing on the nursing program was the first of several planned by ad hoc committees of the university's Academic Senate, which makes recommendations to the chancellor. Although Young is not bound to follow the recommendations, they are expected to heavily influence his decision, which is due by July 1, the start of the next fiscal year.
The budget plan calls for a cut of $1.3 million in the nursing school's $3.1-million annual operating budget.
Critics contend that abolishing undergraduate nursing runs counter to national health reform efforts to increase the number of advanced-practice nurses. They say it would jeopardize two UCLA clinics run by nurses on Downtown's Skid Row and would leave Los Angeles County hospitals with a big hole to fill at a time when other nursing schools are turning away students because their classes are full.
Dr. Richard J. Steckel, director of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, said the proposed budget cuts "will have Draconian effects."
Steckel also told the hearing that the proposal "flies in the face of a national trend and a national need, and one which a research university like ours is best suited to meet."
Alice Takahashi, a nurse and a consultant to the state Board of Registered Nursing, called the plan shortsighted, noting that it would have a particularly negative effect on the training of advanced-practice nurses.
Advanced-practice nurses are the highly skilled medical practitioners who perform many medical procedures once left solely to physicians. Much of the push over ways to make health care more affordable has included calls for increased use of such nurses.
"With the anticipated changes that will come about with health care reform, advanced-practice nurses will be needed now more than ever before," Takahashi said. "The plan does not take into consideration the health needs of not only the state but of the nation."
UCLA administrators did not speak at the hearing. But Vice Chancellor Claudia Mitchell-Kernan defended the cuts in comments shortly before the session began, noting that the university is scaling back many of its professional schools, and administrators believe there are other avenues, including the California State University system, through which to obtain undergraduate nursing training.
"With tight budgets we really have to look to those things we do best and uniquely," Mitchell-Kernan said.
There are about 100 students enrolled in the undergraduate program, and about 250 more in doctorate or master's degree programs. Counting elimination of undergraduate training and cuts in the graduate programs, the nursing school would lose about half its current enrollment if the budget plan goes through.
UCLA nursing officials say the proposed budget cuts are so deep that they could threaten the existence of the two highly regarded Skid Row clinics, at the Union Rescue Mission and the St. Francis Center.
The clinics depend on the nursing school or administrative and staff support for such things as billing, grant applications and data collection.
Warren Currie, president of the Union Rescue Mission, said the UCLA clinic offered "a critical service to a population with an acute need."