Local organizations team up to address nurse shortage - Porter Medical Center
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Local organizations team up to address nurse shortage

By:  John Flowers, Addison Independent 03/11/2021

MIDDLEBURY — There’s never been a better time for some people to enter the health care field if they live in Addison County.

Helen Porter Rehabilitation & Nursing and the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center are collaborating on a new course offering aspiring Licensed Nursing Assistants (or LNAs) not only free tuition, but also a paycheck while they’re studying and a guaranteed job after they graduate.

It’s called the Licensed Nursing Assistant Training Program, and enrollment is open through April 1 for the six-week course, which begins April 7. Classes are 3 to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at the career center off Charles Avenue in Middlebury.

On days that students aren’t in class, they’ll be working at Helen Porter as an “LNA in training,” providing support services and gaining experience caring for residents.

Upon successful completion of the course, graduates receive their LNA licensure and transition into a vacant, full-time LNA role at Helen Porter. They must commit to one year at Helen Porter in return for their free tuition and training.

“We could use at least eight full-time LNAs right now,” said Helen Porter Administrator Mary Jane Nottonson. “I’m hopeful this program will attract interested candidates, with the goal of supporting Helen Porter. But an LNA is also a pipeline to other health care careers.”

Nottonson noted the career center has historically offered LNA courses through its adult learning curriculum for those seeking an entrée into the health care field. But this is the first time a local health care institution has offered to underwrite the tuition of students who take the course, as well as guarantee a job.

“We have already had a favorable working relationship with the career center,” Nottonson said. “This is really just a new level to support the need to hire and retain quality individuals.”

The promise of full tuition (which usually runs $1,920, plus $150 in testing fees) and an hourly wage of $14 (base pay) during training is a reflection of Helen Porter’s need for personnel.

Indeed, there’s a nationwide dearth of health care professionals, and the demand has only gotten more acute during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a health care workforce report authored by Laura Q. Pelosi and delivered to the Vermont Legislature in March 2019, the number of new Registered Nurse licenses issued in the state declined by 69% between 2007 and 2014. New LNA licenses declined from around 1,650 in 2003 to around 800 in 2019, according to the report.

Pelosi estimated — based on Board of Nursing Licensing data, hospital budget submissions and surveys — that Vermont would see a demand for 3,909 nursing positions by April of 2020.

“We’re a 24/7 operation, so the needs are great,” Nottonson said of Helen Porter. “The LNAs provide the bulk of the care here, from a time standpoint.”

The nursing home currently employs approximately 60 LNAs — some full-time, some part-time, and some per diem, according to Nottonson. Officials anticipate ongoing vacancies, so a career center pipeline for more workers would be welcome.

 Dave Roberts is the Hannaford Career Center’s adult education coordinator. He said the new LNA course will ideally carry eight students, and plans call for it to be offered at least one more time this year. Applicants must have a high school diploma or GED and be at least 18 years old.

“If it’s working, we’ll add more classes,” he said.

Trainees will learn a lot about anatomy, physiology and general care of the body. They’ll be taught how to take vitals and how to monitor patients.

“It’s all-around, hands-on care,” Roberts said. “Half the class is the book, half the class you’re practicing with your peers.”

Upon completion of the course, newly minted LNAs will be able to provide direct care to patients, including taking vital signs, as well as bathing, dressing and grooming services.

The new course is likely to attract folks of all ages and walks of life. Helen Porter LNA Ellen Pratt earned her certification during her late 40s.

“This career has been a great fit for me,” she said. “I enjoy helping the residents with their daily activities and learning their life stories.”

Pratt loves the interaction with patients, most of whom have led full, interesting lives.

“I truly have gained a lot of wisdom and rewards knowing I have helped someone; bringing smiles and laughter to the residents is the greatest reward,” she said.

Ultimately, the Licensed Nursing Assistant Training Program could become just the first step toward bigger things in the health care industry.

“We like to say this is an entrance into a career; it’s not just getting an LNA,” Roberts said.

For more information about the program, check out tinyurl.com/eartakxd.

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addiosnindependent.com