CLERMONT, Fla. – The Live Well Foundation of South Lake has awarded Lake-Sumter State College through the LSSC Foundation a $2 million grant to expand the College’s healthcare education and training programs.

In 2022, LSSC’s AS Nursing program will expand through the adoption of the dedicated education unit (DEU) model in partnership with Orlando Health South Lake Hospital.

In 2023, LSSC will launch new respiratory therapy and physical therapy assisting programs.

With prior grant support from the Live Well Foundation and Orlando Health, LSSC will also start a Medical Lab Technician program in 2022.

“We are excited by the opportunity that this grant provides for Lake-Sumter State College and our partners to have a significant impact on health sciences education in our community,” said Dr. Heather Bigard, provost and executive vice president at Lake-Sumter State College. “We look forward to expanding our partnership with Orlando Health South Lake Hospital and increasing enrollment in new and existing programs to help address critical shortages in the workforce.”

The DEU is a nursing education model established through a partnership between an academic institution and the clinical facility where a unit is dedicated to a cohort of nursing students to immerse the students into real-life clinical experiences. By utilizing dedicated unit(s) in the hospital, LSSC can enroll more students and continue to provide high-quality nursing education and preparation.

LSSC expects to enroll double the number of nursing students in South Lake after the implementation of the DEU model at Orlando Health South Lake Hospital.
“Nurses are essential members of any healthcare team,” said Bonnie Onofre, chief nursing officer, Orlando Health South Lake Hospital. “This educational model will allow Lake-Sumter State College students to learn directly from Orlando Health South Lake clinical staff while gaining real-world experience in a hospital setting. We’re excited for how this partnership will prepare the next generation of nurses to enter the work force with the skills necessary to provide exemplary patient care.”

The classroom and laboratory spaces on campus that were previously used by the nursing programs will be used for the planned allied health programs, including respiratory therapy and physical therapy assisting programs.

Respiratory therapy assistants are both responsible for maintaining the equipment and monitoring patients during treatment. With a high attention to detail, respiratory therapy assistants monitor the machines to ensure that delivery levels are correct, and that the equipment is working properly, while also supporting the patient. This role also relays home-care instructions and teaches patients to use at-home equipment.

Physical therapy assistants work with the patients suffering from pain or mobility issues to carry out the plan prescribed by the physical therapist. This may include massage, electronic muscle stimulation, or instruction on how to do exercises or stretches. Physical therapy assistants work in a team environment and must record and communicate all aspects of the patients’ therapy to ensure healing and recovery.

“Nurses and allied health practitioners make a significant contribution to the health and wellness of patients in both inpatient and outpatient settings,” said Dr. Jessica Shearer, dean of allied health programs at Lake-Sumter State College. “Allied health professionals work in a wide range of positions both with direct patient care and behind the scenes in laboratory or administrative settings. Along with nurses and physicians, these positions play a vital role in our healthcare delivery.”

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity lists the occupations associated with these new programs as among the fastest growing occupations in Central Florida with job growth of 25 percent or higher expected through 2029.

“The Live Well Foundation of South Lake is aware that, with our communities’ rapid growth and healthcare services expansion, there is a greater demand for nursing and related healthcare professionals in our community,” said Susan McLean, Grants Committee Chair.

Live Well Foundation President, Donna Kirtland noted “This investment in healthcare education will allow individuals seeking a career in healthcare to remain close to home. Students will participate in immersive clinical experiences as part of the Dedicated Educational Units alongside healthcare professionals in South Lake County.”

“This gift from the Live Well Foundation of South Lake is one of the largest in the College’s history,” said Dr. Laura Byrd, SVP of institutional advancement and executive director of the LSSC Foundation. “We are appreciative of this significant support from the Live Well Foundation and look forward to the positive impacts it will have both on students in our community and the health services provided to our local population.”

As a standard part of the academic program planning process, these new programs require approval from the LSSC District Board of Trustees and the College’s regional accrediting agency, SACSCOC.

To learn more about the Live Well Foundation of South Lake, visit

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