Baylor School of Nursing Uses $1.5 Million Gift to Establish Chair in Mental Health

The new mental health endowed chair at Baylor University will advocate for mental health and research while endorsing advanced practice nursing degrees.
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Published on July 13, 2023
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  • Baylor's Louise Herrington School of Nursing (LHSON) received a $1.5 million donation to initiate its first endowed chair to cover mental health topics and advocacy.
  • Texas ranks as the worst state for mental health services, according to a Forbes report.
  • The designation of the chair will focus on elevating advanced mental health nursing degrees and nursing students' education and personal well-being.

In June, Baylor University in Texas announced that its Louise Herrington School of Nursing (LHSON) received a $1.5 million donation from the family of the late Louise Herrington Ornelas — or Ms. Lou, as she was widely known on campus — to set up its first endowed chair, which will advocate for mental health training and student mental wellness.

"We are grateful to Ms. Lou's family for this generous gift to support mental health research and instruction at Baylor's Louise Herrington School of Nursing," Baylor University President Linda Livingstone, Ph.D., said in a statement.

Because the gift supports the university's strategic initiative plan of "health and human flourishing, leadership and ethics," the endowment qualifies for a matching donation from Baylor's Give Light Campaign's Illuminate Chair Matching Program. The additional funds will provide other academic resources, support, and scholarships.

What the Chair Means for Baylor Nursing Students

The Louise Herrington Endowed Chair in Mental Health will be responsible for sustaining a high scholarly level of educators within LHSON. The chair will also demonstrate academic leadership and be responsible for advancing research and development to teach the most challenging mental and behavioral health subject matters.

Supporting mental health in nursing education means not just training but supporting nursing students' personal well-being. Obtaining a nursing degree can be demanding, and many students face mental health challenges during their educational journey.

Students often have jobs and family obligations in addition to the class time, studying, and clinical practice that nursing school requires. The COVID-19 pandemic expanded the need for mental health services for both patients and nurses, many of whom are reportedly leaving the profession in part because of burnout related to stress and other mental health difficulties.

The donation will help support the LHSON's new Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner track set to begin in August. Advanced practice and doctoral-level mental health nurses, such as those trained in this program, can help fill the nation's gap in service needs.

"Supporting our efforts to fuel nursing education growth, our new Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner track will help with the tremendous shortage of mental health providers here in Texas and the U.S.," Linda Plank, Ph.D., RN, dean of Baylor's LHSON, said in a statement:

"We are truly grateful as it will help aspiring Baylor nursing students follow their calling."

Texas Nursing Schools Fill a Need for Better Mental Health

Forbes recently listed Texas as the worst-ranked state for mental healthcare. The state also has the highest number of people with mental health conditions who lack medical insurance, according to the report.

Children's behavioral health resources were also found to be insufficient. According to Forbes, Texas has the highest percentage of youths who had a major depressive episode and did not receive any services.

Like Baylor, other schools in Texas have taken steps to improve the mental health well-being of nursing students and clinical staff.

The Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Nursing, for example, invests time and resources into its wellness program for the healthcare community of faculty, staff, and nursing students. The school's wellness department created a tranquility room where students can decompress, have a soothing cup of coffee or tea, or do a leisure activity like making art.

Texas Christian University's Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences also is working to prepare nurses for the workforce. The Bebout Student Wellness Center teaches students the art of coping well. Since many nursing students don't have time to go to the wellness center due to their busy schedules, the wellness center goes to the students.

The current mental health crisis and nursing shortage in the United States is clear. Advanced-degree mental health nurses can help close the gap. Baylor University's LHSON new endowed chair can help further efforts in mental and behavioral health research, education, and student support.

Ornelas was a longtime donor to the school that bears her name. In 1999, after a $13 million endowment gift, the school was named for her. She later gifted the purchase of an academic building. Ornelas died in 2018.