UNA President Ken Kitts and Russellville Hospital CEO Christine Stewart shake hands after signing a memorandum of understanding Wednesday at Bibb-Graves Hall. [KENDYL HOLLINGSWORTH/TIMESDAILY]

FLORENCE — Officials representing Russellville Hospital and the University of North Alabama met Wednesday at Bibb-Graves Hall to sign a memorandum of understanding designed to help health care employees and dependents further their education.

Russellville Hospital joins a handful of area health-care providers who have signed a similar agreement with the university, according to UNA President Ken Kitts.

The partnership is effective immediately.

“This is very important,” Kitts said. “We constantly stress with our staff here that we have to be a university for the region. That means getting outside Florence, sometimes a little bit outside of the Shoals.”

Russellville Hospital CEO Christine Stewart said she is excited about the partnership.

“Our employees will benefit from it, their dependents will benefit from it, and most importantly, the patients in our county and the surrounding counties,” she said.

Stewart said the partnership will have a positive impact on patient care down the line.

“The university’s support of healthcare providers in northwest Alabama is to be commended,” she added. “We greatly appreciate UNA making these scholarships available to our employees and their dependents.”

State Rep. Jamie Kiel, who primarily represents parts of Franklin, Colbert and Lauderdale counties, also attended the signing.

He emphasized the role of such partnerships in combating the decline of health care in rural Alabama, particularly by educating more nurses and keeping rural hospitals open for those who can’t afford to travel for the care they need.

“In health care in general, we have a nursing shortage, so I can see right off the bat a nursing school at UNA benefiting our health care in the rural areas of my district,” Kiel said. “Anything that we can do to help the rural hospitals we’ve got to do, and this is just one of those pieces of the puzzle.”

Kitts said he was a “very quick fan” of the agreement with Russellville Hospital, which he also believes will enhance health care in the area.

“I think the reason that we’re growing is because we’re serving our region and our state very well, and I think people understand that,” he said. “UNA’s reputation is good for that reason.”

—kendyl.hollingsworth@timesdaily.com or 256-740-5757. Follow on Twitter @TD_KendylH


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