Portland Community College faculty concerned for future of nursing program

By Meerah Powell (OPB)
April 21, 2023 11:03 p.m.

Amid uncertainty in leadership, some PCC faculty are worried the nursing program could close

FILE: PCC Rock Creek in Washington County is one of several campuses for the largest postsecondary institution in Oregon.

FILE: PCC Rock Creek in Washington County is one of several campuses for the largest postsecondary institution in Oregon.

Courtesy of Portland Community College

Faculty members and students at Portland Community College are worried that Oregon’s well-documented shortage of nurses could get even worse due to a lapse in leadership at the college’s nursing program.


The director of PCC’s nursing program, Lisa Sanchez-Navarro, resigned late last month, according to an email authored by multiple nursing faculty members and sent out to the wider college faculty by the faculty union.

Faculty say if the program doesn’t have adequate leadership in the next few weeks, it could be forced to close due to state nursing regulations which require nursing programs to have a nurse administrator in place within 15 days of a departure. That 15-day deadline is set for May 4, according to the college.

“We have students that are about to graduate,” said Anne Mortensen, a nursing faculty member at PCC. “They will not be able to graduate if we do not have a director.”

Mortensen said two qualified nursing faculty members volunteered to step in to fill Sanchez-Navarro’s position jointly, both working in the role part-time while still teaching, but PCC declined.

Instead, the college hired Sanchez-Navarro back in a “limited supervisory” role as the Nursing Program Administrator, with the nursing dean and associate dean helping to manage the program, Mortensen said, an approach faculty members disagreed with. Neither the dean nor associate dean are masters-qualified registered nurses — a qualification for leading the program.

Sanchez-Navarro ended up submitting her resignation again earlier this month, according to nursing faculty.

“Our director sadly wasn’t set up for success,” Mortensen said. Mortensen said the program has been “short-staffed,” which has weighed on leaders, faculty and students.

All nursing programs in the state are overseen by the Oregon State Board of Nursing, or OSBN.

According to a state statute, when there’s a change in program leadership, nursing programs must request approval of a new leader from the state nursing board within 15 days.

In remarks at the PCC board meeting Thursday night, President Adrien Bennings acknowledged the college needs to fill the leadership void.

“We are required by the Oregon State Board of Nursing to have a nursing administrator in place,” Bennings said in her president’s report. “They have granted us a 15-day exemption so we can find a new nursing administrator to meet this requirement, and we are in talks with staffing agencies and other possible candidates at this time.”

In a statement to OPB, PCC’s Interim Senior Director of Marketing and Communications James Hill said the college is “working on finding a replacement swiftly.”

“Leading up to the Administrator’s departure, PCC has been in conversations with numerous individuals to identify either a Nursing Director replacement or, at a minimum, someone to serve in the Nursing Program Administrator role,” Hill said. “The College is in active conversations with staffing agencies to fill the Nursing Administrator role.”

Mortensen said because of short-staffing, turnover and a lack of consistent leadership, the nursing faculty were hoping that the leadership position could be filled by someone internally.

“It would be different if there weren’t qualified people willing to step into the role, but there are,” she said. “We need directors that have actually been here and understand what’s going on and understand the resources we need.”


Nursing faculty at PCC say part of the challenge of filling the leadership position has been financial. The two faculty members who offered to fill the role temporarily requested higher pay, which faculty say was part of what kept the offer from being accepted.

Hill said the college worked with the internal candidates “based on the salary range for the director position, bargaining contracts and pay equity laws.”

Hill said the college worked under those rules, and ultimately “the candidates declined the offers.”

Lack of pay is a familiar barrier in the nursing profession, and one of the issues that has contributed to the state’s nursing shortage. According to a recent study from the Oregon Longitudinal Data Collaborative, Oregon has the 12th-largest pay gap in the country between nursing faculty and nurse practitioners.

“The students we graduate will be able to make as much money as a nursing director,” Natalie Barron, a nursing faculty member, told OPB.

A current bill in the Oregon Legislature, House Bill 3324, is aimed at increasing pay by creating stipends for nurse educators, if passed.

OSBN Interim Executive Director Barbara Holtry told OPB the board was informed that PCC’s nursing program director had resigned. She said OSBN will do an on-site evaluation next week, at the request of the nursing program and will report on the visit at OSBN’s June meeting.

Multiple students and faculty members from PCC’s nursing program shared their concerns with the college’s board at the Thursday night meeting.

One person who testified, and self-identified as a current nursing student, said they are concerned about their ability to graduate without department leadership in place, and they called for the two internal candidates to be hired in the position.

“Twenty-eight students are graduating in June. The nursing director must submit our information to the board in order for us to take our board exams,” the student said. “Our focus should be on passing our exams and preparing to enter the workforce as safe and competent nurses. Instead, we are here today to fight for our education and our futures as nurses.”

Outside of the nursing program, Frank Goulard, a math professor at PCC and the college’s faculty union president, also spoke in support of the nursing program during the meeting.

“There were 40-plus people here in the room tonight, but they only represented the swath of hundreds, if not thousands, of people throughout the district that value PCC and its nursing program,” Goulard said.

“We have able and qualified faculty who would like to step into that director’s spot to save this quagmire of a possible stain on our nursing program. Let’s move forward and do it. The time is precious. Every day is precious between now and May 4.”

Just before Thursday’s meeting concluded, PCC board member Serin Bussell blasted how the faculty union has communicated about the leadership gap in the nursing program. Bussell said the faculty union sent misleading messages to the rest of the college about the nursing program’s future.

“No one wants to see the nursing program shut down,” she said. “I just feel like it was so disingenuous to insinuate that the college wants to close the nursing program and take away people’s livelihoods. I just feel like it was frankly irresponsible to rile people up in that way.”

In regard to PCC not hiring the two internal nursing faculty members, Bussell reiterated that private negotiations over salaries can’t be disclosed.

She continued: “I support the administration, and I trust that they are working hard on a process to resolve this. This frankly hurts my trust with the leadership of the unions of how this went down.”

Michelle DuBarry, vice president for communications with the faculty union, told OPB that nursing faculty approached the union looking for support because they felt they were not being adequately heard by administrators.

“It was their decision to speak at the meeting and to engage students and the broader community to sound the alarm on this issue,” DuBarry said. “Implying that the union riled people up needlessly when the program is two weeks away from losing accreditation is inaccurate and not helpful to students, faculty, or the community.”

DuBarry said the union put out a survey recently to its members asking whether they thought PCC administration was making decisions that were in the best interest of students. Nearly three-fourths of survey respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed.