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Amid nursing shortage, Hood College launches health sciences school

A student in the Hood College Department of Nursing, which will be a part of the newly established The Ruth Whitaker Holmes School of Behavioral and Health Sciences. (Courtesy of Hood College)

At a time when demand for nurses and other health care professionals is high and only continuing to increase, Hood College in Frederick has announced plans to establish a school for behavioral and health sciences, growing its footprint in the health care field.

The Ruth Whitaker Holmes School of Behavioral and Health Sciences will be funded by a multimillion-dollar donation by its namesake, Ruth Whitaker Holmes, an alumna of the college, a former member of the Hood College Board of Trustees and a retired faculty member at Framingham State College in Massachusetts. Hood College did not disclose the exact amount of the gift.

The school will house the college’s nursing, counseling, psychology, social work, sociology, nutrition and public health programs. The master’s in nutrition and bachelor’s in public health are the newest of the programs the college is offering, having launched in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

Hood’s nursing program has seen major growth over the past eight years, growing from 23 students in 2014 to 149 now, with the college’s administration expecting to add another 60 students by the beginning of the fall 2022 semester.

Its master’s program in clinical mental health counseling is also growing.

“Our goal is to recruit, retain and effectively train a diverse group of professional counselors with experience in, and a commitment to, working with underserved populations,” Hood Provost Debbie Ricker said in an email. She noted that the program recently received a $2.2 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to promote diversity within the program and the broader counseling field.

Hood’s public health program has also surpassed projected enrollment goals, “largely due to the significant impact of the pandemic on public health resources and overall awareness,” she said.

In addition to the existing programs, Hood is developing “a series of new undergraduate and graduate programs that will align with the school’s mission and continue to address regional workforce needs in the health professions broadly,” Ricker said.

The establishment of the School of Behavioral and Health Sciences follows Hood College’s announcement that it would lease space from Frederick Health, the county’s largest health care provider, to house its nursing and public health faculties, as well as classroom space for the college’s health care programs and simulation labs for the nursing department. The facility at 700 Tollhouse Road in Frederick is undergoing renovations, with plans for the space to be ready by spring 2023.

Both announcements come as Maryland and the nation struggle with severe, long-term shortages of nurses, mental health professionals and several other health care jobs, exacerbated by burnout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Locally, both Frederick city and Baltimore city are considered health profession shortage areas defined by HRSA,” Ricker said. “Our program is, therefore, responding both to the general need for additional counselors as well as the specific needs of rural and/or vulnerable residents, and persons especially harmed by substance abuse. The Holmes gift, as well as our partnership with Frederick Health, will not only be transformational for Hood but also for the countless individuals that our graduates will serve.”

Holmes, along with her husband G. Burtt Holmes, is also contributing $1 million, matching a $1 million grant from the Maryland Department of Commerce E-Nnovation Fund, to establish an Endowed Dean position for the school. A national search to fill that role is underway.