Nursing Board Recommends Closing Vinal Tech LPN Program

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The licensed practical nursing program at Vinal Technical High School in Middletown is preparing to close because too few graduates have been passing the LPN licensing exam.

The state Board of Examiners for Nursing voted 5 to 1 on April 6 to recommend to Dr. Raul Pino, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, that the program be closed immediately. The program has been in jeopardy since last fall because fewer than the required 80 percent of students have been passing the exam on the first try after graduation.

Nursing board member Mary Brown voted against the closure, according to draft minutes of the meeting. Earlier in the meeting, she had proposed delaying the closure to let the current class graduate in January 2017 and take the licensing exam, but the rest of the board voted against her motion, the minutes said.

Pino has not signed off on the closing, DPH spokesman Christopher Stan said. The department’s attorneys will prepare a written ruling to go back to the nursing board and Pino will review that ruling after the board acts, he said.

Abbe Smith, a spokeswoman for the state technical high school system, said students will complete the semester at Vinal Tech and administrators are working on a plan to help the students transfer to another LPN program in the tech school system in August.

Smith said Vinal Tech’s program has 17 students. One of them, Hillary Thompkins, 53, of Middletown, has been lobbying since February to keep the program open. She was at the nursing board meeting and then broke the news to her classmates.

“People are crushed,’’ she said. “They’re crying. There’s anger. There’s disbelief.”

Thompkins said students have already been told to tell Vinal Tech which school they want to attend in August. They can choose from the LPN programs at Eli Whitney Technical High School in Hamden, Kaynor Technical High School in Waterbury, Norwich Technical High School, A.I. Prince Technical High School in Hartford and Bullard-Havens Technical High School in Bridgeport.

Thompkins, who is thinking of finishing 35 miles away in Norwich, said the transfers are a hardship for many students.

“People have rearranged their lives around going to school at this locale,’’ she said. “What sense does it make to disrupt us two thirds of the way through?”

Vinal Tech’s passing rate hit a low of 53 percent in 2012, but has recently been rising. Since it remained only at 75 percent on May 1 and Oct. 1, 2015, the nursing board began steps last fall to close the program.

There are 15 licensed LPN programs in Connecticut, including the six housed at the tech schools. Some of the tech school programs have struggled since 2010 when then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell cut their funding and suspended the programs. An infusion of $1.2 million from the technical high school system and increases in tuition helped save six of the programs, including Vinal Tech’s. Their classes resumed in 2011.

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