TBILISI, Georgia - Construction will start this summer on a $400,000 U.S. government-funded medical education center here that seeks to improve the quality of nursing and emergency medicine throughout the country.

Although officials say the health care system in Georgia has modernized dramatically since the country gained independence almost 20 years ago, the inherited infrastructure and medical training from the Soviet era have not made similar advances.

"The physicians and nurses are really good people, but the facilities are rundown and there is literally no technology," said Dr. H. Kenneth Walker of Emory University, Program Director for the Nursing Education Project in Georgia.

Funded through U.S. European Command's humanitarian assistance program and a grant from U.S Agency for International Development, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-managed project will renovate space for a simulation center, classrooms, a clinical skills laboratory, and a distance learning, telemedicine and library/media center at Tbilisi's Academician Nikoloz Kipshidze Central University Clinic, better known as the Republican Hospital, said Stanley Young, the Europe District project manager.

The project, which requires about 750 square meters (8,072 square feet) of hospital renovations, is expected to take less than 300 days.

Once renovations are completed, Emory University and Tbilisi-based Chavchavadze State University will team to establish a modern curriculum.

"We all bring necessary resources to the table," said Charles Brady, EUCOM's Humanitarian Assistance program manager. "EUCOM and USAID provide funding; the Corps supplies construction capabilities ... This project can only succeed with the support of every single participant."

Eventually, Emory University hopes to establish a degree-granting school of nursing in cooperation with the government to help improve the profession over the long term, according to USAID.

Nurses are crucial caregivers and leaders in every facet of the health care sector - rural areas, outpatient clinics, hospitals, primary care and public health - and the nursing workforce is a vital foundation for the health care sector of any country, said Fernando Cossich, the EUCOM-USAID senior development advisor.

"The introduction of well-trained nurses into the health care sector has significant implications for all the people of Georgia," Cossich said. "The nurses will offer quality, lower cost health services to underserved populations through health promotion, disease prevention and management of chronic conditions."

Currently, Georgian nurses receive training beginning in the ninth grade for three years, said Walker. The three months of modern medical education this program seeks to deliver will serve as an example of how to quickly elevate health care throughout a country, said Walker, who works with USAID's Strategic Technical Assistance for Results with Training program.

The instruction of medical practitioners is one of the highest forms of education a country needs and one of the most rapidly changing fields around the world, said Rear Adm. William Brown, EUCOM's director of logistics during a visit to the hospital.

"Georgia is a very important country to us," he said. "The U.S. and Georgia have a strong working relationship based on mutual respect and an open exchange of ideas and this project only furthers to strengthen our friendship."

The immediate goal, according to USAID, is to improve the skills of nurses practicing throughout the country through a comprehensive training program that includes management skills as well as how to provide continuous in-service education in their respective hospitals.

The program is anticipated to turn out more than 1,000 nurses each year.

"It's a big number," Walker said. "But to have an impact, you can't just produce 10 nurses a year."

Brown gave thanks for the visionaries who thought of this program.

"I thank the leaders who have the vision to make changes that will last forever," he said. "It's happening because it should happen and we are proud to commit to this partnership."