Funding Issues Cloud Future Of Wor-Wic’s Therapy Labs

SNOW HILL — Labs designed to house Occupational and Physical Therapy training classes are completed but empty and, unless more funding is found, they will remain that way into the near future.

The labs, which are part of Wor-Wic Community College’s new Allied Health Building, were recently constructed and will likely be dedicated in August.

The building, which cost approximately $25 million to erect, was planned several years ago at a time before the economic slump when funding estimates were considerably higher than the reality the college faces today.

While the college had planned to utilize the labs in that building for therapy classes, Wor-Wic President Dr. Ray Hoy said that they are currently, “sitting, waiting.”

The labs are “waiting” for a confirmation of funding from both Worcester and Wicomico counties, money that is needed to finance the therapy programs, each of which is expected to cost roughly $200,000, for a total of $400,000 a year.

County Commissioner Virgil Shockley said that he was “willing to bite the bullet” in terms of voting for Worcester to contribute its share to the programs.

However, because of enrollment differences, Wicomico would be faced with the larger slice of responsibility for funding. In fact, they would be expected to pick up nearly three-quarters (71.25 percent) of the tab.

With Wicomico already $532,000 behind from what it should be contributing to the college, the idea of “creative accounting” was floated around. Unfortunately, the commission could not think of any manner of accounting that would be creative enough to help Wicomico come through with its share, since it would have to pay the roughly half-million dollars it owes before it could begin to fund the therapy programs.

While Hoy claimed that he did not like to use the word “impossible,” he did admit that it was very unlikely Wicomico would be able to come through for the college.

Hoy stressed the importance of the programs, especially in the current job market, as those possessing the skills Wor-Wic was hoping to teach in the therapy field could look for an average salary in the $58,000 range. He added that a large percentage of Worcester’s population was becoming elderly, a demographic which traditionally requires the most attention from the therapy field.

The situation is made even worse by the fact that Hoy was confident the programs would not only immediately fill up, but would generate waiting lists as well.

“There’s not going to be a shortage of students,” he said.

Besides the obvious benefit of increased job opportunities, Hoy also mentioned that there was a national push to make Americans more educated. The goal is to have 60 percent of the population hold at least an Associate’s Degree by 2025. With Worcester County hovering at a bit over half of that goal right now, there’s still a long way to go.

“We’re creating roadblocks,” said Hoy, who pointed out that having the facilities for programs but not the funding was making it difficult to hit that 60 percent goal, an achievement which would help make America more competitive on the global market.

Even if the programs were to receive funding in the near future, Hoy explained that there would be a lot of preparation between green-lighting the classes and actually implementing them.

“We’ve got a year lag time even before we can offer the classes,” he said.

After that, no graduates would be seen from the program for another two years.

“You either have to take a stand and try and fix it or throw your hands up and walk away,” said Shockley.

His fellow commissioners agreed and promised Hoy that an effort would be made to find a way to provide funding for the programs, hopefully along with Wicomico County.

Hoy expressed optimism, but reminded the commission that a long-term solution was needed. Simply finding the resources to fund the first year of the program wouldn’t be enough if there wasn’t a plan to also secure funding for the second. He explained that it wouldn’t be fair to put students through the first section of training just to hit a brick wall in regards to funding and not be able to offer the second and final year of the course.

The idea of funding the programs through donations was discussed. Unfortunately, Hoy remarked that the donations would have to be significant and the need for long-term security with that funding would be the same as if it came from the counties.

With funding looking unlikely for this year and next year not shaping up to be much better, Hoy stated that Wor-Wic would make do as best it could by putting the therapy equipment into storage and using the labs as regular classrooms until a solution can be found.