Gift to boost Mental Health care services in Wyoming

Students on campus to promote the ReNEW Program (Revolutionizing Nursing Education in Wyoming). Noah Katz (male, white lab coat), Powell, WY; Taylor Schumann (female, white lab coat), Laramie, WY; Ethan Atwood (gray t-shirt, backpack), Casper, WY. UW News Service

A $1 million gift to the University of Wyoming Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing by longtime supporter the McMurry Foundation aims to boost the delivery of psychiatric mental health nursing and integrated care in Wyoming through UW’s undergraduate and graduate programs.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to both honor Mary Burman and support Wyomingites’ access to mental health education and services,” says Susie McMurry, of the McMurry Foundation. “I have a deep fondness and admiration for Mary. She is a true friend and mentor.”

The gift creates the McMurry Foundation Fund in Mental Health and Integrated Care in Honor of Mary Burman, which benefits the Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing. The fund honors Burman, dean of the School of Nursing from 2008-2019 and director of the Division of Social Work since 2016.

Burman’s dedicated contributions and innovations have advanced the practice of nursing and health care in Wyoming and the profession. She has been at the center of revolutionizing the state’s nursing education through the ReNEW program, which creates a statewide nursing curriculum that makes it easier for associate-level nurses to earn bachelor’s degrees and beyond.

Burman has been on the UW faculty since 1992. She earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota, her master’s and Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, and a post-master’s certificate for family nurse practitioner from UW.

She has been named a fellow of the Robert Wood Johnson Fellowship Executive Fellows Program; a fellow of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners; a “Trailblazer” of the Wyoming Women’s Foundation; Advocate of the Year from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing; and winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wyoming Nurses Association.

“I am deeply touched by Susie’s generosity,” Burman says. “It means so much that the McMurry Foundation will continue its support of psychiatric mental health education and practice in Wyoming. This gift will allow the Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing to enhance its efforts to enhance the availability and quality of psychiatric mental health services in Wyoming.”

This is not the McMurry Foundation’s first gift in support of the Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing. In 2011, the foundation gave $1 million to meet the challenge of providing quality rural health care, with the vision to support students interested in pursuing their BSN degrees. Thanks to this funding, UW and the state are an exemplar of rural health care for other states to follow.

“Improving access to health care statewide is critical to Wyoming’s future,” Gov. Mark Gordon says. “This gift will help provide specialized education to our state’s nursing students and deliver quality mental health care to our rural communities where it is desperately needed. I am grateful to Susie McMurry, whose generosity has helped build a better Wyoming. Truly, the McMurry Foundation’s philanthropy shows its continued commitment to paying it forward.”

There are only 26 psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners in the state, and every county in Wyoming is underserved for psychiatric mental health. The McMurry Foundation set out to change that. The foundation broadened the use of its initial fund to support the creation of the Psychiatric Mental Health Doctor of Nursing Practice Program in fall 2014. Since then, there have been 14 graduates from the program.

“Susie McMurry is one of the great women of UW,” says Neil Theobald, UW acting president. “Her tireless efforts to improve access to health care are admired by all of us as exemplifying the power of philanthropy in action. It is wonderful that this portion of her legacy honors our outstanding dean, Mary Burman.”

This new gift will support a new faculty position that will transform the approach and integration of mental health into care delivery, fellowships that encourage faculty to advance mental health education and practice in Wyoming, and a rural psychiatric mental health Project ECHO, an innovative learning collaborative that builds professional capacity through videoconferencing technology.

The chair in mental health and integrated care will focus on education and practice to increase the quality and quantity of psychiatric mental health practices into care delivery. It will work with other faculty to shape undergraduate and graduate curriculum around mental health, as well as collaborating with key stakeholders around the state to identify and assist in implementing best practices.

“Susie McMurry’s generous gift will play a major role in our efforts to address the need for mental health services across the state,” says David Jones, dean of the College of Health Sciences. “This gift will have a long-term impact, and it will serve as a catalyst for the College of Health Sciences as we work to address the health and wellness needs of the citizens of Wyoming.”

The fellowships in psychiatric mental health will consist of a UW faculty award that is critical to build capacity of the Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing. These fellowships will work in concert with the program’s chair to encourage faculty to engage in research and teaching that advance mental health education and practice in Wyoming.

The Project ECHO model links expert specialist teams at an academic hub with primary care clinicians in local communities, an approach that is well-suited to Wyoming’s rural setting. The state’s counties are dramatically underserved for mental health care providers, and the rural setting presents challenges that can be addressed with innovative models of practice such as Project ECHO. It is a learning collaborative that builds professional capacity using videoconferencing sessions to bring participants together from around the state to communicate with experts in the field.

A Project ECHO for psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, family nurse practitioners, clinics and hospitals in Wyoming will build a powerful network of professionals who implement mental health screening best practices in their communities and integrate physical and psychological health. These sessions also provide an opportunity for psychiatric mental health clinicians, primary care providers and others to network with a larger community, thereby elevating mental health care in the state.

“The visionary philanthropy leadership of the McMurry Foundation continues to transform our state’s university,” says Ben Blalock, UW Foundation president. “When Susie told Mary Burman she was making this gift in her honor, the tears in the eyes of those of us at the table is a moment I will always treasure.”

Other Wyoming organizations have stepped up to support this important initiative. In 2016, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming’s Caring Foundation committed to a three-year pledge called “Meeting Wyoming’s Needs Through Nurse Education,” which supports scholarships at BSN and Doctor of Nursing Practice levels. Then, in 2019, Blue Cross Blue Shield added five scholarships for the Psychiatric Doctor of Nursing Practice Program, which will be matched by five hospitals.