DUE FOR A CHECKUP

STATE REGULATORS MULL THE FATE OF A CONTROVERSIAL TRADE SCHOOL'S NURSING PROGRAM.

Students expecting to graduate in October from the licensed practical nursing program at Denver's Concorde Career Institute have been told they must wait until January. Greater than their disappointment, say some nursing students, is their fear that the education that cost them $12,000--many times the price of LPN programs at other metro-area schools--won't be worth the paper their diplomas are printed on.

Word of the delay comes at a time when state regulators are conducting an evaluation of the nursing program at Concorde, a trade school that had a troubled history in its previous incarnation as the Colorado College of Medical and Dental Careers (CCMDC). As Westword reported last month ("Tooth or Consequences," August 23), the trade school recently settled a seven-year-old lawsuit originally filed against CCMDC.

In 1988, thirteen female graduates from the Colorado College of Medical and Dental Careers sued the school over alleged problems with its dental program. The plaintiffs complained about absent teachers and missing and outmoded equipment, as well as poor training that they said left them unable to hold down jobs as medical or dental assistants.

The corporation that owned the school filed bankruptcy in 1993; another corporation, Concorde Career Colleges, Inc., took over and renamed the school the Concorde Career Institute, moving it several blocks to a larger building at 770 Grant Street. However, the same director, Dick Shepard, remained in charge, and the new corporation president, Jack Brozman, is the son of the former corporation president, now deceased.

A settlement was finally reached in the lawsuit last month--in part because attorneys for the school threatened to drag the suit out at least another four years and the plaintiffs' lawyer declined to press the case any longer, according to two of the women who sued. The school offered $1,500 to each former student in exchange for the women dropping the case and agreeing not to talk about their experiences. Most of the women have since signed the settlement agreement.

Concorde's new LPN program opened for business last fall. According to Karen Brumley, the state's administrator for LPN programs, the state Board of Nursing has approved two of the three phases necessary for the program to continue.

The third and final phase in the state approval process involves an evaluation of the school that must be completed prior to the graduation of the first class of students. That phase has been completed, Brumley says, and a report will be presented to the board September 28.

Depending on the evaluation, the program could either receive the state's blessing or be subjected to penalties. Available sanctions include not allowing graduates to take their state certification tests or shutting down the program entirely.

Brumley says she can't reveal the contents of the report until the board has reviewed it. However, she concedes that one of the complaints voiced by LPN students--that the program has gone through three directors in one year--is true.

"That is something that is being reviewed and will be part of the board's considerations," she says. "It is not typical. Good schools need stability, and having three directors in a year is not stable."

One current Concorde student says the board's evaluator may have received an overly positive impression of the school. "She came to school and asked us about the program right in front of the director of nursing," says the student. "No one was going to open their mouth in that situation."

Brumley says that's not quite true. "Only students were present," she says. "But it was in a group, and that means someone with a complaint might have been afraid there was a stoolie who would go back and tell on them."

Other complaints from current students who were contacted by Westword or who called the newspaper after last month's article echo those of the plaintiffs in the just-settled lawsuit. A common charge is that teachers are often absent or late to class and that students are expected to make up for it by cramming coursework.

One student says dummy arms used at the school to practice inserting needles in veins were so old and ragged that students began practicing on each other. "I've got bruising all over my arm because they kept missing the vein," says the student. "Then they got an air bubble in my arm that I had to push out. Students are going up and down the halls with these big black and blue bruises."

Yet another would-be nurse complains that the school has had a difficult time locating and keeping clinic sites--doctor's offices and hospitals--that will allow Concorde students to observe. But Brumley says the state evaluator saw students who "seemed to be doing okay" at work in clinics.

The students who spoke with Westword say they have teachers who care about them and about the subject matter. But they express concern that the problems they've described at the school may come back to haunt them when they take the state's LPN licensing test. "I've only got thirty days or so left," says one student, "and I'm wondering if I'm going to know enough to pass."

The private Concorde LPN program costs $12,000 per year. Public schools in the Denver area offer the same degree for about $2,500, but the wait to get in can be as long as two years. And students say that both CCMDC and Concorde pushed them to take out government-backed loans to pay tuition.

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