The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) awarded the Western University of Health Sciences College of Graduate Nursing $1.8 million to enhance mental health services in the region.

The grant provides $1.875 million over four years to fund stipends for Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) students and for the creation of the region’s first Behavioral Health Training Center.

The grant will fund 40 PMHNP student stipends of more than $28,000 each. The first cohort of WesternU PMHNP students started in August 2021. The program addresses a critical need for more mental health providers in the area. The state average for mental health providers is about 14.7 providers per 100,000 residents. In the Inland Empire, there are 7.7 providers per 100,000 residents.

“This is going to fill a gap by putting out 40 more mental health providers,” said CGN Dean Mary Lopez, PhD, MSN, RN. “The stipend removes the barrier of the cost of attendance. We are prioritizing recruitment for those from underrepresented backgrounds and anticipate working with vulnerable populations.”

CGN PMHNP students will get experience in care of the client with an addiction disorder, which is missing in many programs across the nation today. Recognizing and treating clients with addiction disorders is a serious issue in California, said CGN Associate Dean for Research and Administration Rod Hicks, PhD, APRN, FAANP, FAAN. The future PMHNPs will also receive training in child and adolescent mental health, adult mental health, and counseling.

CGN will also expand clinical opportunities and telehealth training for its students. The College expects to create at least 20 new clinical partnerships, which will then open clinical opportunities for other WesternU programs, Hicks said.

CGN’s Behavioral Health Training Center (BHTC) will allow WesternU learners to gain valuable skills in assessing and diagnosis clients with mental health disorders. The center will utilize virtual reality that provides training in thousands of different scenarios.

“By having a dedicated BHTC, all WesternU students can benefit,” Hicks said. “Our focus is to help students go from the training center to the bedside, so when they participate in clinical experiences, they will be prepared and ready to go.”

Acknowledgements

WesternU Senior Vice President for Advancement Diane Abraham, PhD, CFRE, secured the services of Kim Joyce and Associates, who constructed the grant application with CGN Associate Dean Rod Hicks, PhD, RN, FNP-BC, FAANP, FAAN, CGN Director of Assessment and Educational Effectiveness Matthew Durkin, EdD, and College of Health Sciences Assistant Dean Josh Matacotta, PsyD. CGN Dean Mary Lopez, PhD, MSN, RN, authorized the pursuit of the grant.

Assistant Vice President for Sponsored Programs and Contracts Management Matthew Katz, MHA, helped ensure compliance. Chief of Community and Governmental Affairs Jeff Keating, MA, arranged for U.S. Rep. Norma Torres to write a letter of support.

Thank you to: CHS Dean Dee Schilling, PT, PhD, Senior Vice President for Research and Biotechnology Devendra Agrawal, PhD, MBA, CGN Simulation Center Leader Michael Marinello MSN, RN, Senior Vice President and Provost David Baron, DO, MSEd, Co-Director of Financial Aid Linda Frenza, Pumerantz Library Director Karoline Almanzar, MLIS, Associate Vice President of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning Tim Wood DHSc, PA-C and CETL Lead Instructional Designer Tracy Moore.