CALEDONIA TWP. — Davenport University plans to ramp up academic programs to bring more professionals into the mental health field.
Davenport, headquartered in Caledonia Township southeast of Grand Rapids, this fall will launch two new graduate degrees focused on mental health. An online graduate degree to train mental health nurse practitioners is designed for registered nurses who want to advance their career.
“There’s a need for people to help diagnose, and nurse practitioners can diagnose under the auspices of a physician, so they’re another arm to assist with the mental health needs and that vulnerable population,” said Amy Stahley, associate dean for the university’s College of Health Professions.
The university also plans to launch a master’s degree in mental health counseling this fall. Both graduate programs come as the need for mental health professionals grows along with incidence rates that have spiked during the pandemic.
Davenport University also joined an initiative by Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services to provide tuition support for nursing students who want to work in behavioral health.
Under the partnership, Pine Rest will provide $10,000 in tuition assistance per semester, or up to $40,000 over two years, for up to six Davenport students accepted into its Nursing Academy career development program. The scholarship is open for students and nurses who want to pursue a career in psychiatric nursing. Scholarship recipients in return have to commit to working at Pine Rest during nursing school and for two years after earning their state license.
Given the nursing shortage and rising need for mental health care, partnering with Pine Rest “just makes sense,” Stahley said.
“Before the pandemic, there was absolutely a need for more nurses in psychiatric nursing. Since the pandemic, that’s only increased the need,” she said. “We do need more mental health nurses, so it makes sense to partner with an exemplary organization such as they are, and they’re willing to support our Davenport nursing students financially and also through a mentorship.”
Pine Rest initiated the scholarship program last summer for students enrolled in nursing programs at Grand Valley State University, Calvin University, Cornerstone University and Montcalm Community College.
The initiative came together as health care providers cope with an acute nursing shortage. Many care providers have raised pay, offered retention and sign-on bonuses, and provided education assistance to attract and retain staff.
The tuition assistance Pine Rest offers reduces the financial burden for nurses who want to further their education and work in psychiatric nursing.
“We hope that many of our current employees who have thought about returning to school will take this opportunity seriously and earn the education they want,” Gretchen Johnson, chief nurse executive at Pine Rest, said in a statement. “By adding more nurses to the workforce, this ensures that care will continue to be provided and the next generation of nurses will carry us all forward.”
‘Definitely seeing the need’
By partnering with Pine Rest on the scholarship program and launching the new graduate degrees, Davenport looks to help fill a growing need for behavioral health professionals at a time when care providers are expanding capacity to address rising incidence rates for mental illness.
New inpatient psychiatric hospitals are under construction by Trinity Health in Grand Rapids and Bronson Healthcare in Kalamazoo.
As well, Pine Rest and Corewell Health’s Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital are partnering on a planned $62 million pediatric center. The 88-bed Pediatric Behavioral Health Center of Excellence on Pine Rest’s 68th Street campus in Cutlerville will include a psychiatric urgent care, a crisis stabilization unit, and specialty outpatient clinics to prevent mental health crises for conditions such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.
In Muskegon, Trinity Health Muskegon recently reopened a 27-bed inpatient psychiatric unit on East Southern Avenue by the former Hackley Hospital campus to full capacity following an $8 million renovation to modernize the space.
The unit maintained nine inpatient beds as the renovation proceeded. Since fully reopening, the unit has at times operated at or near capacity, said Linda Dunmore, chief nursing officer at Trinity Health Muskegon.
“We are definitely seeing the need,” she said.
The renovated space better accommodates individual and group therapy and features an aesthetic with colors and lighting designed to psychologically calm patients, Dunmore said.
“When you walk in, the unit feels calmer and more welcoming,” she said. “It’s just been a much-needed enhancement for this patient population.”