It has been an unprecedented 3 years for healthcare workers, full of extended shifts, increased workloads, and added stress–resulting in burnout and a shortage of trained staff.
To help address this historic shortage, Southern’s College of Health and Human Services has been awarded a $3 million grant as part of CT Health Horizons, a new 3-year higher education initiative launched by Governor Ned Lamont to boost the ranks of nursing and behavioral health providers on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through the grant, Southern was awarded $1.4 million for its accelerated nursing program and $1.6 million for its social work program. The funds will be used toward tuition assistance for Connecticut-based students and faculty recruitment and retention, allowing Southern to send more graduates into the healthcare workforce, including an increased number of students of color.
Additionally, Southern received innovation grant funding to expand its part-time nursing program that is tailored to working Certified Nursing Assistants and grant funding to establish field placement training centers for Master of Social Work students. In doing so, Southern was the only school in the CSCU system to qualify for all the components of the grant.
“This is historic for Southern’s social work program as it is the first time we are receiving funding like this. This grant will help us create access for our students who normally wouldn’t receive it, serve marginalized communities in need, and answer the call for help amid this mental health crisis,” said Loida Reyes, chair of Southern’s Social Work Department.
“For the first time, the social work program has been able to bring in 50% students of color, and we will be able to prepare around 100 social workers per year to rise up to the challenge. It’s exciting to have practitioners mirror the population they are serving,” Reyes said.
Reyes and Maria Krol, chair of the SCSU School of Nursing, will spearhead the implementation of the grant at Southern. Both are the first women of color to lead their departments, and both have extensive experience in their fields and are fully committed to addressing the workforce shortages in nursing and social work by increasing enrollment capacity, access, and professional pathways.
“This is very timely, the nursing field is experiencing many challenges, including the need to diversify its workforce,” Krol said. “This grant will allow us to give financial assistance to students who are in need and in turn can go out into the field and better understand the patient population they are serving.
“Southern is truly living up to its social justice mission by providing more access, and in turn, our graduates can address healthcare disparities,” she said.
The innovation grant for nursing builds on an existing initiative, Southern’s CNA to RN program, extending a partnership with Yale New Haven Hospital that creates a career ladder for working CNA’s. This innovation award will allow Southern to take on a full student cohort this fall and provide financial support to those participating in the program.
The grant has also enabled Southern’s Master of Social Work program to create student field placement partnerships with New Haven’s Cornell Scott Hill Health Center and Clifford Beers Community Care Center. The grant allows Southern to compensate these community partners for participating in the field placements while providing scholarships for the students, who will have a pipeline to potentially work full-time at one of the agencies.
“Southern is committed to stepping up to this moment and increasing our number of students while also providing them all the necessary support services that they need to succeed,” said Sandy Bulmer, Dean of Southern’s College of Health and Human Services. “We train the workforce for the state of Connecticut, and we take that responsibility very seriously.”
The CT Health Horizons grant was announced at the Cornell Scott Hill Health Center on March 1, 2023. The initiative, which includes the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU), the University of Connecticut, and multiple state agencies and private institutions, was announced at Southern’s new College of Health and Human Services Building last August.
“The demand for well-trained health and human services professionals has never been greater,” said Southern President Joe Bertolino. “Southern extends its gratitude to the Governor and state of Connecticut for providing us with the resources to address this area of critical need.”