Developing a dream
A new nurse aide (aka Certified Nursing Assistant, or CNA) training program at EMU Lancaster is providing job opportunities for those interested in the entry-level nurse aide position while meeting the needs of the numerous nursing homes in Lancaster County and surrounding regions. The program is the brainchild of Mary Jensen, vice president for enrollment and strategic growth at EMU, who sought out a solution to the shifting healthcare needs in the pandemic-laden summer of 2021 while serving as associate provost of EMU Lancaster. “We had one of the first RN to BSN programs in the Lancaster region and had developed a reputation in healthcare. While it became apparent during COVID that workers were leaving healthcare, there were also people who still needed jobs and wanted to work in healthcare, but had to start at the ground.”
Jensen consulted with the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce, members of her team and EMU administration to research the viability of a scaffolded workforce development plan that involved partnering with area nursing homes to provide their employees with CNA, LPN, RN and BSN training. The results of this long-term strategy revealed a positive economic and educational impact to both EMU and Lancaster County, one of the largest retirement regions in the nation. So, in the fall of 2021, Jensen began the process of acquiring approval from the state of Pennsylvania to run a CNA program. A short time later, she was offered her current position in Harrisonburg, so would become a supporter of the project from a distance.
Christine Sharp, who was named executive director of EMU Lancaster in June 2022, led the Lancaster team through implementation of the CNA program. She continued conversations Jensen had started with executives from local nursing homes—and before long Landis Homes, Mennonite Home and Fairmount Homes had signed on as partners. The three nursing homes donated most of the equipment—including six hospital beds—for the classroom-turned-lab that was created to spec at EMU Lancaster by its resourceful staff in October 2022; an onsite lab was required as part of the state application process for administering a CNA program. “I love working in partnership,” shared Sharp. “It’s powerful for the school. It’s powerful for the community. And it’s powerful for our partner organizations.”
With partnerships in place, Sharp shifted to hiring instructors to teach the CNA training classes that would begin in January 2023. Seasoned nursing professionals Carmen Miller and Bernice Reynolds ‘21 stepped in to fill the two spots required to get the program up and running. Miller agreed to teach in a part-time capacity. Reynolds, who graduated from EMU Lancaster’s RN to BSN program and had Miller as an instructor, accepted an offer to teach part-time in January before moving into a full-time role as director of the nurse aide training program in March. Both women were required to take a course through Penn State to become certified to teach classes at EMU Lancaster as part of a strict set of state standards for CNA instructors.
Launching a program
After a nine-month process, EMU Lancaster received state certification—and Sharp and staff worked with Landis Homes, Mennonite Home and Fairmount to fill training slots for the brand-new, six-week CNA program. Cohort 1 launched with 10 Landis Homes employees in January; cohort 2 followed in March with five Mennonite Home and five Fairmount employees, and cohort 3 got underway in May with three employees from Mennonite Home, one from Fairmount, and one from Pleasant View Communities—a new nursing home partner. The program, which prepares employees to take both a written and skills nurse aide exam through Credentia for state certification, totals 120 hours and is divided into three parts: classroom/theory (45 hours), lab (35 hours), and clinicals (40 hours).
According to Reynolds, classroom instruction entails PowerPoint presentations, handouts, activities, and videos related to body systems, abuse, vital signs, pain levels, and “some 50 skills of daily living” (23 of which are Credentia skills) including washing the hair, handwashing and bathing. Lab time involves students practicing these skills on mannequins or on each other before working directly with the nursing home residents during clinicals. Sharp says a benefit of the partnerships is having clinical sites, which is an integral part of the training.
The need for nurse aides is so great that partners pay to send their employees through the CNA training program while also paying them their hourly rate, which can range from $18-$24. Mennonite Home even offered CNA candidates a $10K sign-on bonus, paid over two years, to fill its second shift. “It was so fortunate that EMU Lancaster’s partnership and the sign-on bonus came together,” said Justin Lewis, HR recruiter and former CNA at Mennonite Home. “There is a huge demand in healthcare for CNAs, and EMU has helped us fill our vacancies.” Lewis added that the Monday/Wednesday/Friday training schedule allows for a work-life balance with two days in between to “recoup, study, or potentially work.” (EMU Lancaster has since added an eight-week Tuesday/Thursday training option.)
Ramsuze Pierre was hired by Mennonite Home as a CNA after working in a fast-paced position as a technologist assistant at Lancaster General Hospital. “I wanted a slower-paced environment and the opportunity to get to know my residents,” said Pierre, who went through cohort 2. Pierre says she learned medical terminology and the importance of learning residents’ routines, body changes and mood swings in the CNA training program. “We learned everything that was on our exams,” declared Pierre. To date, 100 percent of students have passed the Pennsylvania state written exam, and 93 percent have passed the skills portion of the exam.
Tiffany Millner had been working as a laundry aide at Fairmount for nearly a year when she learned that CNA classes for cohort 2 would be held on MWF evenings, which fit her schedule. She applied, interviewed, and landed a CNA position with Fairmount, who sponsored her training. “I feel like I made a good choice by switching [jobs],” shared Millner, who says she “missed taking care of people” after having looked after her mom for five years before her passing in 2022. “EMU Lancaster’s program was amazing. Ms. Bernice (Reynolds) and Ms. Carmen (Miller) were excellent teachers and broke down our questions until we understood the answers.” Millner says she learned physical skills like how to “properly stand and hold your resident” to social-emotional skills like “making residents feel important and letting them be as independent as they can be.” She also grasped why as a laundry aide she had folded washcloths in fourths: because nurses use a clean area of cloth for each body part!
Meeting a need
Since starting in January, EMU Lancaster’s training program has hosted celebrations of completion for three cohorts of students who are serving as CNAs in Landis Homes, Mennonite Home, Fairmount, and Pleasant View Communities. United Zion and Hospice & Community Care have signed on as partners, and several other nursing/senior care organizations have reached out to partner with EMU Lancaster. Reynolds is hiring additional instructors, and three more cohorts are scheduled for 2023 to meet the nursing home needs and demand for the course by high school students and community members.
“I have a passion for the program because it has the capacity to change people’s lives,” said Reynolds. “Our nursing home residents deserve to be treated abuse-free with dignity and respect, and this program addresses the proper way to care for residents. It also recognizes a CNA job as a profession, can impact earning power, and is a stepping stone to other educational and professional opportunities in healthcare.”
With a model of success in place, EMU Lancaster will continue to assess the marketability of an LPN training program and other offerings. Millner says she is satisfied with her CNA status for now, but that EMU Lancaster should still start an LPN program. Pierre is “praying” for such a program. Whatever the future holds, Jensen believes EMU Lancaster is living into its mission to “prepare people from all walks of life for the workforce.” She says the CNA program “diversifies what it means to be educated at EMU” and “solidifies EMU’s place in Lancaster County as a partner who is seen as innovative, flexible, and willing to work with people to meet actual needs of the community.”
This article was published in the Spring/Summer 2023 Crossroads magazine.