FRCC alumnus Joel Bitler started his career in health care as a certified nursing assistant straight out of high school. But he never stopped learning—and Joel now proudly serves as the director of clinical services for Columbine Health Systems, managing the clinical teams at five nursing homes and three assisted living facilities.
As COVID-19 challenged facilities like his throughout the state, Joel is especially proud of the work he and his teams did to protect their residents. Older residents are more at risk from infections of all kinds—but as Joel stressed, he had never seen anything like this. “[The virus] changed everything.”
Columbine’s mission is: “To enrich our community; We inspire. We connect. We care.” From the onset of the virus, Joel was part of Columbine’s collaborative leadership team that rallied resources, obtained needed medical supplies, and agreed to do whatever it takes to save lives. In a June briefing, Colorado Governor Jared Polis highlighted Columbine’s efforts, congratulating them on avoiding unnecessary loss of life.
But without visits from relatives and isolated because of the stay-at-home order, Joel worried as he saw residents becoming depressed and losing weight. Columbine looked for creative ways to busy them as rules relaxed.
Their facilities around northern Colorado are were able to start hosting outdoor visits with social distancing, hallway bingo with masks, and concerts residents could enjoy through opened windows. Joel compliments the caregivers at Columbine who are like family to residents, and who voluntarily spending many extra hours with them.
Launching a Career Through Education
Joel began his path to a health care career with a high school medical terminology course—and at his teacher’s urging, graduated as a certified nursing assistant (CNA). He worked on and off as a CNA for about five years while going to school.
In 2002, Joel started a certificate program to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN). He smiles, remembering an old ad campaign aimed at inspiring more men to enter the nursing profession. But even after he earned his LPN certification, he found that his career options were limited, especially in Colorado. “As an LPN, I could not work in a hospital in Colorado. I had to go back to school.”
Coming to FRCC
That’s when Joel came to Front Range to earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN)—and it turned out to be the right move. “Getting my ADN was very impactful in my career,” he says. “I actually wrote a paper in my [bachelor’s degree] program about how ADN-prepared nurses are initially better prepared for the work force than nurses [with bachelor’s degrees]—mostly due to my personal experience as a student and working with future students as a clinician. I would and do recommend FRCC’s nursing program!”
In 2007, Joel earned his associate degree at FRCC to become a registered nurse, and eventually went on to earn a bachelor’s in nursing.
Taking On a Leadership Role
Over the years, Joel took on increasing responsibilities at the hospitals where he worked. He was a nurse in both the intensive care unit and cardiac cath lab—and eventually grew into the position of charge nurse, taking on more of a leadership role.
In 2014, he was hired as the director of nursing for one of Columbine’s facilities (Columbine West). A few years later, he became the nursing home administrator for that same facility. Then in 2018 he became the director of clinical services for all of Columbine’s facilities.
FRCC is a direct beneficiary of Joel’s education, dedication and success. He is chair of the advisory board for FRCC’s LPN and RN programs.
”As the director of clinical services for Columbine, I believe it is crucial for any leader of any health organization to have great community partnerships with… colleges and universities. Our future work force comes from [these schools] and I want ensure they are prepared and ready to join our team after graduation.”
Columbine Health has also pledged $150,000 to help FRCC fund its new Health Care Careers Center in Fort Collins. The decision to invest in training health care workers was an obvious choice for the business’ leadership.
“[FRCC] graduates are exceptional. Many work for us,” said Bob Wilson, owner and CEO of Columbine Health Systems. “We will continue to need certified nursing assistants and nurses going forward. This new state-of-the art education center is a gem for our community.” The business has also helped the college fundraise in the community for the new facility, which opened in August.
How You Can Help
FRCC takes a lot of pride in the successes of our alumni like Joel—and their commitment to our communities and our state. If you’d like to help more students get the opportunity to improve their lives through education, please consider making a donation to the FRCC Foundation for student scholarships or other funds. (You get to choose from several options for where your gift will be directed.)
Even as the country faced so many challenges this year, donors made 2019-2020 the most successful year in the foundation’s history—awarding more than $1.1 million in scholarships to our students. See how the FRCC Foundation affects our students’ lives in our annual Impact Report.
This post was jointly researched and written by Marilee Menard and Jessica Peterson.