Accreditation mix-up worries graduates

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SCC radiology grads currently not allowed to work in-state

By Brandon Mattingly

Graduates from the radiology program at St. Catharine College are weighing their options following a recent meeting with school officials that revealed they do not have the proper accreditation to work in the state of Kentucky.

Ten students participated in this past weekend’s graduation ceremony, but the group is holding off on accepting their diplomas until the issue is resolved. Several students and parents were in attendance at Hampton Inn in Lebanon last Wednesday, as Sen. Jimmy Higdon and Rep. Terry Mills shared their research on the topic, as well as a potential course of action.

What the representatives found was that to work in Kentucky, radiology students are required to graduate from a school that is JRCERT (Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology) certified, which SCC was until this past fall.

According to Higdon, the school was informed in October that it had lost the accreditation based on the low ARRT (American Registry of Radiologic Technologists) test scores of a previous class and elected not to appeal. School officials quickly notified students of the decision, though those on hand last week said they weren’t informed that working in the state would not be an option until a meeting with school reps two weeks ago.

“To practice in Kentucky, you have to graduate from a school that has that certification,” Higdon said. “St. Catharine has a national certification, and that’s recognized in most every other state other than Kentucky.”

Kentucky adopted this certification process in 2007 and the KMIRT (Kentucky Medical Imaging Radiation Therapy) Board was established by the general assembly with House Bill 137 in 2012 to oversee administrative regulations, though state government reserves the right to trump any regulations with legislative action.

Despite Kentucky recognizing JRCERT accreditation for the last seven years, Higdon said the standard has only recently been strictly enforced.

“Apparently they have only in the last year really required people to have this certification, and there are a lot of people practicing in the state who are not JRCERT certified,” he said.

Thanks to Kentucky’s unique accreditation standards, SCC students have been left waiting for the next step.

“It’s my understanding that if you accept your diploma, you’re graduating from a school that’s not accredited by JRCERT. You all need to talk to somebody and have a game plan for that,” Higdon said. “Once we get this accreditation thing taken care of, my understanding is that then you can get your diploma at any time.”

St. Catharine re-applied for JRCERT in April, but the school will be accredited no earlier than August and the process could take closer to one year.

Therefore, the options for the 10 students are to transfer to another school, stay at SCC and wait for accreditation to be granted or apply for a waiver from the KMIRT Board.

Higdon and Mills said last week that they had already made arrangements to be included on the agenda for today’s KMIRT meeting, and that students and parents are encouraged to attend and voice their concerns. The hopes of the representatives is to attain a waiver for the 10 graduating students, as well as any other students currently in SCC’s radiology program. Higdon said he and Mills have spent more time researching the topic than “most any issue that I’ve ever worked on,” and each said they feel confident that something can be done.

“Listen, I believe we can fix this. Anything as wrong as this, there’s a way to fix it,” Mills said. “I’m upbeat and I’m positive, and I would like for you all to be that way.”

Still, both warned against those involved getting overly excited, as a waiver or emergency regulation is not guaranteed.

“I don’t want to get your hopes up that they will approve that, but that is certainly our intention,” Higdon said. “We’ll do everything we can to see that we get a waiver.”

“I don’t want to over-promise. Remember, I’m optimistic, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to be able to make this happen,” Mills added. “With friends like Jimmy Higdon and other members of the legislature, I’m hoping we can make that happen and that we can get a commitment at the board meeting.”

Some of the 10 students — which includes residents of Nelson, Marion, Mercer and Hardin counties — previously scheduled ARRP testing during May and need a decision to be made at today’s meeting.

Mills also said that he’s going to get started on a long-term solution to avoid this predicament in the future.

“The second thing is that I’m going to go ahead and start drafting some legislation for next year,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll never have to file any legislation because we’ll get it all worked out before then.”

Higdon said he’s spoken to several people who stated that the board has granted waivers on other matters in the past, keeping hope alive that a solution can be found on short notice.

Mills pointed to the local movement to keep college-educated students near home as one of the primary reasons the state representatives have taken such an initiative on this issue.

“There’s nothing I hate worse than sending our resources to Indiana,” Mills said. “We do it every day now when the gamblers go over there and they take a lot of our money, so we don’t want to send more of our resources to Indiana.”

Despite concerns from students and parents about St. Catharine’s communication with them on the issue, Mills said the school was also caught in a tough situation with Kentucky’s uncommon accreditation standards.

“I don’t think St. Catharine can fix this, but I do think the board has the authority and the power given to them by the general assembly to fix this,” he said. “I’ve heard nothing that questions the quality of the program. Somebody asked me if I’m mad at St. Catharine and said, ‘No, as far as I’m concerned, they’re trying to do the right thing, too.’”

The KMIRT Board is made up of nine members, two of which are professors at SCC. Those members — Ellis Blanton and Carol Scherbak — will be excused from voting on the issue due to conflict of interest. The remaining seven members will determine what comes next for the group of graduates.

St. Catharine College did not respond to a request for comment on this story.