Greenwich couple addresses nursing shortage

(Greenwich Times) Barbara and Donald Jonas always did their research when compiling their extensive collection of abstract expressionist art.

The longtime Greenwich residents now bring that same attention to their philanthropic efforts. In 2005, after auctioning off their valuable pieces, the Jonases began researching where their help would be needed most. They spoke to leaders from prominent hospitals and schools, and decided to use the $44 million in proceeds from the sale of their artwork to help address the nationwide nursing shortage.

“We decided we really wanted to make a difference,” Barbara Jonas said. “We wanted to do something other people were not doing.”

The couple established the Jonas Center for Nursing Excellence, which now supports 59 nursing doctoral students at nearly two dozen schools. The program will be expanding this fall to include 200 scholars across all 50 states.

Tens of thousands of people are turned away from nursing programs each year due to a shortage in faculty, Barbara explained. Nurses earning doctoral degrees will be able to fill the shortage of teachers, and will also be able to do advanced clinical work.

Recently, the Jonases launched a new initiative, supporting advanced training for nurses who care for wounded veterans.

On Thursday, the Jonas Center for Nursing Excellence will hold its first golf classic at the Stanwich Club on North Street. Proceeds from the event will help support the new veterans health care program, which will be funding an additional 50 students across the country this fall, in partnership with Veterans Administration health care facilities.

The veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq will have numerous challenges, including using prosthetic limbs and coping with post traumatic stress disorder.

“Suicides are enormous in the military, and we have to get them back on their feet,” said Donald Jonas, a retail executive who served in the U.S. Marines in 1951, and knows many veterans.

While many organizations focus on finding housing and jobs for returning veterans, the Jonases say their initiative is unique.

“Nobody is doing what we’re doing, which is helping them get back on their feet through nursing,” Donald said.

The Jonases are heavily involved in their charity, recently visiting a VA hospital in the Bronx, and also meeting with nursing doctoral students studying at the University of Connecticut.

Donald says meeting the doctoral candidates is inspiring. Many are in their second careers, and are raising families while going back to school.

“We are not here just writing checks,” said Barbara, who has worked as a psychotherapist. “We have personally visited the schools, visited the hospitals. We have sponsored conferences.”

Emily Tuthill, a nursing doctoral student at UConn’s Storrs campus, said she found out about the Jonases’ program through a conference they sponsored. She heard Darlene Curley, an RN and executive director of the Jonas Center, speak, and learned more about the scholarship.

Tuthill, who has been researching mother-to-child transmission of HIV as part of her studies, is going to school full time, working toward getting her clinical nurse specialist and doctoral degrees.

“Any help with being able to focus more on your school and not have to worry about the finances and finding another job is critical,” Tuthill said. “I’m really trying to focus on contributing to this research and getting as much out of school as possible.”

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