UNE receives $2 million from Glickman Lauder Foundation to support mental health care and ease workforce shortages

With the gift, UNE plans to launch an innovative psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program to bolster the state’s limited behavioral health workforce.

As mental health programs continue to shutter across Maine, the University of New England is taking strides to address a mental health crisis.

With generous financial support from the Judy Glickman Lauder Foundation, UNE plans to launch an innovative psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) program to bolster the state’s behavioral health workforce. The $2 million gift will also allow UNE to simultaneously increase the emphasis of psychiatric concepts and skills for students in its current undergraduate Nursing program offerings.

UNE is the top provider of health professionals for the state, and the University’s School of Nursing and Population Health graduates the largest number of pre-licensure (registered nurse, or RN) students in Maine. By exposing students to psychiatric concepts at the undergraduate level, UNE hopes to increase interest in the field to tackle pervasive mental health challenges such as substance abuse and access to behavioral health care.

“Maine’s health care worker shortage deeply affects those who struggle with their mental health. By educating more mental health professionals to meet rising demand, UNE will help ease workforce shortages and get people the care they need,” said UNE President James Herbert, a clinical psychologist. “As Maine’s largest provider of health professionals, UNE has a specific responsibility to address pervasive health issues in our own backyard. This new program will do just that.”

Maine’s population is the oldest — and most rapidly aging — in the nation and is experiencing a boom in immigrant and refugee communities. Through a unique, integrated instructional approach, the program aims to prepare graduates to tackle the mental health challenges presented by these changing demographics.

UNE plans to enroll 15 students in the program per year to supplement the state’s limited number of PMHNPs. Additionally, the program will increase the number of new registered nurses entering Maine’s workforce who have received targeted training in mental health.

“The mental health crisis in our country far surpasses our capacity to provide meaningful care for those in need,” said philanthropist Judy Glickman Lauder. “Meeting these needs begins with investing in well-trained and compassionate healthcare professionals. We are pleased to support the University of New England’s commitment to bring more mental health professionals into the field. Our family hopes others will join us in this crucial mission.”

The new program, to be named in honor of Glickman Lauder, will leverage UNE’s existing resources, including its Interprofessional Simulation and Innovation Center, which houses standardized patient laboratories as well as patient simulators and a nationally acclaimed virtual reality (VR) nursing simulation. In that program, learners use headsets to engage in immersive, realistic clinical experiences. The PMHNP program will expand the VR simulation to include psychiatric and mental health clinical scenarios.

New initiatives that will also benefit students include the creation of an innovative learning laboratory focused on the social determinants of health as they relate to mental health, as well as the creation of a robust network of statewide health care partners to support high quality inpatient and outpatient psychiatric clinical experiences.

Such programming will capitalize on UNE’s hallmark interprofessional education (IPE) approach to health professions instruction, which encourages students from all health disciplines to engage in collaboration and teamwork in delivering patient care. Interprofessional collaboration has routinely been shown to improve clinical outcomes, reduce medical errors, increase patient satisfaction, and decrease provider burnout. UNE was an early adopter of IPE and is a national leader in the field.

Karen Pardue, Ph.D., RN, UNE associate provost for Strategic Initiatives, remarked that the PMHNP program is “a vital addition to UNE’s strong cadre of health professions programs, serving to augment Maine’s provider workforce and caring for those impacted by mental and behavioral health conditions.”