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Lee Health receives $4 million gift to help nurses and CNAs pursue additional degrees

A Southwest Florida man who credits certified nursing assistants for expediting his recovery has pledged $4 million through Lee Health Foundation for scholarships so nurses and CNAs can pursue additional degrees.

For the past decade, Mark Ain, a former patient at Gulf Coast Medical Center, has provided financial support to nurses and CNAs through the Heart of Caring Scholarship Program, which he established in 2014 alongside his wife, Carolyn. The program has covered application fees, tuition, books and additional academic expenses, as well provided stipends for more than a dozen CNAs who wanted to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree and advance their careers to care for patients. Scholarship recipients commit to working for Lee Health for two years after completing their degree program. The Ains also have funded Lee Health’s CNA educational symposiums, as well as professional development for Lee Health nurses from across the system.

Mark Ain’s newest pledge will endow the Ain Heart of Caring program in perpetuity to allow nursing staff from across the spectrum to pursue college degrees, helping Lee Health make a dent in a nursing shortage impacting hospitals nationwide.

“Mark Ain has not only been a loyal grateful patient, but also a close friend over the past decade,” said Lee Health President and CEO Dr. Larry Antonucci. “This gift ensures that his support of Lee Health nursing development continues forever. His personal experience with our nurses shows that they are the backbone of our health care system.”

Nationally, the shortage of nurses runs in the tens of thousands, according to the American Hospital Association. Locally, Lee Health regularly has more than 100 vacancies for nurses across its hospitals and medical centers.

“As a former trustee of the Lee Health Foundation, Mark knows the importance of endowments to provide long term support for programs that are instrumental to great health care. His commitment to the nursing profession is remarkably generous and timely,” said Chris Simoneau, chief development, marketing and communications officer for Lee Health.

Mark Ain earned a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Rochester. In 1977, he founded the global workforce management software provider Kronos, which became one of the world’s most successful technology companies under his leadership.

The Ains have been active philanthropists whose impact is felt across the country, including Southwest Florida, where the Ain Technology and Design Hub within Florida Gulf Coast University’s Daveler & Kauanui School of Entrepreneurship honors the couple’s generosity. Mark Ain said he was “blown away with the care” of Lee Health medical staff after his hospitalization, particularly the CNAs who collaborate with health care professionals to provide compassionate care to patients.

In a position to give back, Ain asked how he could help.

“I called the Lee Health Foundation and said I’d like to do something for the CNAs,” Ain said in recalling how Heart of Caring started. “They told me there was an education program that did not make the budget cut that year, and I said, ‘It just did.’”

To date, Heart of Caring has awarded scholarships to 19 CNAs at Lee Health.

“I am delighted to be in a position where we can support the professional development and growth of nurses and CNAs that will in turn support the community,” said Ain, a seasonal resident from Massachusetts.

Although CNAs are licensed, their patient care responsibilities remain somewhat limited, and they operate under the supervision of a Registered Nurse (RN) or Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN).

Nurses who have completed a BSN program are authorized to assess patients’ conditions, record medical histories, administer medications, monitor medical equipment, perform diagnostic tests, discuss treatment plans and more. Nurses generally command higher salaries and enjoy employment opportunities in a variety of settings, including hospitals, medical offices, home health care, nursing homes, outpatient clinics and schools. With the ever-changing nature of health care today, continual education and professional development is essential to stay at the forefront of advances in care.

Lee Health employs 4,657 nurses, and although dozens of vacancies are posted, its staffing levels are within recommended levels. However, Lee Health continues studying national trends, including reports of declines in nursing school enrollment despite U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data projecting 6% growth for the occupation through 2032.

“This gift from Mr. Ain is particularly impactful this week, while we celebrate Nurses Week across the United States,” said Jennifer Higgins, chief nursing officer for Lee Health. “As our population continues to age, the need for well prepared and competent nurses will only increase. Mr. Ain’s investment in our nurses will pay off for many generations of patients across our region. On behalf of all Lee Health nurses, I’d like to thank Mark for this generous investment.”

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