CalOptima grant boosts Cal State Fullerton nursing programs to address shortages

CalOptima Health leaders present Cal State Fullerton with a ceremonial check.
CalOptima Health leaders present Cal State Fullerton with a ceremonial check representing $5 million to boost nurse staffing in O.C.
(Courtesy Janis Rizzuto / CalOptima)

As part of an initial effort to address healthcare workforce shortages in Orange County, CalOptima Health presented Cal State Fullerton with a $5-million grant on Wednesday in support of its nursing programs.

Spread out over five years, the grant will provide 50 nursing students at the university with a $10,000 stipend each year to help them complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Grant funds will also go toward expanding programs like Jump Start and Concurrent Enrollment that graduate nursing students into the workforce at an accelerated pace.


“Our programs help students take some of their bachelor’s classes in conjunction with their associate degree nursing program so they only have two or three semesters left to complete their degree,” said Penny Weismuller, director of Cal State Fullerton’s School of Nursing. “The stipend would help them stay focused on their studies rather than needing to work.”

Weismuller, who wrote the grant, added that the stipends will also help diversify the ranks of nursing students who will graduate to work in Orange County, whose population is majority people of color.

Cal State Fullerton is one of seven local institutions to benefit from the first phase of CalOptima’s $50-million Provider Workforce Development Initiative, the biggest such grant ever awarded by the healthcare provider.

“Cal State Fullerton is probably the largest educational producers of nurses in the county,” said Michael Hunn, CalOptima’s chief executive. “They have incredible teaching facilities. They also have one of the largest state of the art simulation labs, where they teach students all the nursing skills they need.”

Chapman University, Coast Community College District, Concordia University Irvine, Orange County United Way, Santiago College and the Sue and Bill Gross School of Nursing at UC Irvine round out the list of other grant recipients.

CalOptima CEO Michael Hunn at the Cal State Fullerton sim lab.
(Courtesy of Janis Rizzuto / CalOptima)

A common thread among several awardees is the need for more nurses in Orange County, a shortage born of the aftereffects of the pandemic and a rash of retirements that is more acutely felt at community health centers and safety net providers.

“Now we need to replace those retirees,” Hunn said. “We also have an aging population here in Orange County. If you look at the county’s data, there is going to be a greater demand and as more healthcare is done in the outpatient setting, a lot of that care is provided by a nurse.”

Jenee Miller is a nursing student in Cal State Fullerton’s Concurrent Enrollment program. She will graduate in June from Riverside City College with an associate’s degree in nursing and, thanks to the program, is on track to complete her bachelor’s at Cal State Fullerton by December.

Miller, 40, is the parent of three children and is interested in working as a nurse in Orange County, but doesn’t know if she will be eligible for the stipend as she will have one semester left to complete. She touts the grant’s benefits, either way.

“My family is living off of one income right now,” Miller said. “With a stipend there will be more time to focus on studies, and that’s such a great opportunity, especially for anyone who’s coming from an underprivileged background or is facing any financial burden.”

Weismuller hopes that the Cal State Fullerton grant will be implemented at the start of the next academic year in August.

As a condition of the $10,000 stipend, repayment will be waived if a nursing school graduate goes on to work in Orange County.