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Health Care Systems Donate Nearly $900,000 to UNF Mental Health Graduate Nursing Program

There’s a mental health professional shortage not only in Northeast Florida but also across the country. In order to address this critical shortage of psychiatric professionals, six Jacksonville health care systems have come together to collectively donate nearly $900,000, helping to alleviate this crisis by funding the Mental Health Graduate Nursing Program in the Brooks College of Health (BCH) School of Nursing at the University of North Florida. The program will educate mental health nurse practitioners with earned doctorate degrees in nursing practice.

Northeast Florida has higher rates of suicide across all age sectors than the entire state, according to a 2014 study by the Jacksonville Community Council Inc. Almost 270,000 of the 1.1 million adults in Northeast Florida are living with a mental illness. Roughly 4 percent, or about 42,000, of adults live with a severe mental illness, like schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder or other psychotic disorders.

“This is a very meaningful gift, and we’re exceptionally grateful to all of the donors,” said Dr. Pam Chally, UNF BCH dean. “Local health care organizations are coming together to support a significant need in Northeast Florida—increasing access to mental health care. A lack of mental health care is a major public health concern.”

St. Vincent’s HealthCare, Baptist Health, Brooks Rehabilitation, Flagler Hospital, Mayo Clinic and Memorial Hospital have collectively and generously donated funds to support this critical mental health nursing program. St. Vincent’s HealthCare is taking the lead in this effort by establishing a non-endowed professorship in Mental Health Graduate Nursing for a five-year period, providing resources to pay the salary of an outstanding faculty member in the field of psychiatric/mental health nursing. UNF will pay the professor’s salary once this funding stream has been exhausted.

“Behavioral health is a top priority in our community, therefore it’s a top priority for our ministry at St. Vincent’s. Northeast Florida ranks as the second-lowest area in the state for mental health funding, which makes it even more imperative for us to invest in partnerships like these to grow capacity and add necessary resources to ensure all patients in need have access to the essential behavioral health care they need locally,” said Tom VanOsdol, interim CEO of St. Vincent’s HealthCare. “Supporting this program and professorship at UNF aligns perfectly with our regional strategy and our mission to provide compassionate, holistic care to everyone throughout the communities we serve.”

Currently, Brooks College offers a Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. This program is fully accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs and prepares mental health counselors to provide direct counseling services to individuals, groups and families. Program graduates not only directly counsel but also advocate for clients’ rights through participation in community, state and national organizational efforts, becoming leaders in community agencies and facilitating delivery of optimum mental health services.

With the addition of the Mental Health Graduate Nursing Program at UNF, BCH will prepare mental health professionals who will have a significant impact on the health of the First Coast. With additional attention in this health care field, specifically Northeast Florida, BCH is hopeful that mental health care will improve and that social issues, like homelessness and addiction, will decrease.

The Brooks College of Health prides itself as being a leader in the preparation of the highest quality health care professionals dedicated to serving the community. For this reason, the College is continually working to provide specialized programming in a wide range of health care fields. Currently, BCH offers a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and bachelor’s degrees in public health, exercise science, health administration, athletic training and nutrition.

Graduate programs include public health, health administration, clinical mental health counseling, exercise science and chronic disease and nutrition. BCH offers three doctoral degrees: a Doctorate of Nursing Practice and a Doctorate of Physical Therapy and a Doctorate in Clinical. The College also houses two flagship programs—nursing as well as nutrition and dietetics.

UNF, a nationally ranked university located on an environmentally beautiful campus, offers students who are dedicated to enriching the lives of others the opportunity to build their own futures through a well-rounded education.