The Belanger School of Nursing will officially re-open Monday, three years after the state Attorney General’s Office required Ellis Medicine to relocate the school from Erie Boulevard to McClellan Street as part of a settlement for inappropriately spending a bequest.
The school, which prepares students for a career as a registered professional nurse, will permanently occupy the Health Services Building at 650 McClellan St. after a half-dozen relocations over three decades. Most recently, it was housed inside rented space at 1482 Erie Blvd.
The latest relocation will give students more hands-on learning facilities and easier access to services like the hospital’s cafeteria, library, counseling, human resources office and nursing home, which are located on its McClellan Street campus. At 17,280 square feet — about the same size as the old space — the Belanger School includes freshmen and senior classrooms, a skills laboratory and a high-tech simulation room fit with high-fidelity mannequins.
“They breathe, they blink, they cough,” said Dr. Marilyn Stapleton, director of the school. “We can program different scenarios on them. So if you want to change the vital signs on the mannequin to be deteriorating, you can. Or if the student takes an action that would cause a patient to respond, we can make its vital signs improve.”
The biggest advantage of the simulation room is that it comes with video cameras. This allows students to act independently in the room while a faculty member watches from outside. Then they can both go over the tape later.
The nursing school is jointly registered with the state Department of Education and Schenectady County Community College. About 70 students enroll every fall, with overall fall enrollment averaging around 120. This fall, the school expects to enroll 140.
By relocating the school to Ellis Medicine’s McClellan Street campus — which houses outpatient services, primary care, emergency care, short-stay rehabilitation, long-term care, medical imaging, laboratory testing and more — Stapleton said nursing students will finally see the benefits of campus life, but one that is more suited to their career track.
“We didn’t have the same kind of services for students as a community college would,” she said. “Now, they will be right on a campus.”
The impetus behind the relocation was a 2010 settlement negotiated by the state Attorney General’s Office. Two years earlier, a descendant of the family that bequeathed $2.3 million to the hospital filed a lawsuit claiming the hospital misused the funds.
John Belanger, an Ellis Hospital trustee from 1953 to 1967, left three-quarters of his estate to the hospital upon his death in 1968. His wife, Anna Nordgren Belanger, died the following year and left three-quarters of her estate to the hospital, as well. Both stipulated that the bequests be used toward the hospital’s nursing school. John’s younger sister, Lurline Belanger Cummings, had attended a nursing school in Bath, Maine, back in the days when nurses wore capes.
Forty years after the “Belanger Legacy” was left to the hospital, Norma Cummings Lyons, the daughter of Lurline Belanger Cummings, filed a suit in U.S. District Court that alleged the legacy was never used to improve the nursing school, which was demolished in 1974 to make room for a parking garage. After that, the suit pointed out, the school was operated out of six different facilities and had only deteriorated, not improved.
Lyons further claimed hospital officials confirmed in writing that the bequests had been used for projects unrelated to the nursing school and for the hospital’s general building program.
The lawsuit was dismissed a year later, but Lyons managed to catch the attention of the Attorney General’s Office, which initiated an investigation into the bequest. Although hospital officials denied any wrongdoing, the attorney general determined that from 1970 until at least 1998, Ellis had repeatedly spent the Belanger Legacy for purposes not related to improving its nursing school.
The state negotiated a settlement requiring Ellis to spend $3.1 million, most of which would come from the remaining money in the bequests, to purchase the Health Services Building on McClellan Street and permanently move the nursing school there. It also required the school to be renamed the Belanger School of Nursing and had Ellis contribute an additional $2.5 million to establish a new fund that would benefit the nursing school.
“We plan to use that money for things like our mannequins and simulations,” said Suzann Smart, executive director of the Foundation for Ellis Medicine. “Some of it will be software updates and new technology as health care continues to evolve.”
Over the years, Ellis has improved its relationship with the remaining Belanger family members, according to Smart. Lyons plans to attend a ribbon cutting at the new school Monday, she said.
“She and I have had a cordial relationship for many years, and we’re looking forward to seeing her at the celebration,” she added. “We will have her mother’s cape on display, as well.”