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St. Charles, COCC team up for training program that has had big impact on shortage of CNAs

(Update: Adding video, info from COCC instructors, students, St. Charles)

'We couldn't hire them fast enough to fill the need'

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Three years ago, St. Charles Health System was experiencing a persistent shortage of certified nursing assistants, with just 30 to 40 percent of positions regularly filled.

“We couldn’t hire them fast enough to fill the need. We were always short CNAs,” said Donna Harrison, operations coordinator for St. Charles. 

Now, thanks to an innovative partnership between St. Charles Health System and Central Oregon Community College, that staffing shortage has closed significantly. Since March 2020, 165 CNAs have gone through the fast-paced immersive program, and 10 new trainees just began a new cohort of the successful program.

Participants in the program are hired on as employees at St. Charles immediately after enrolling.

The program is an accelerated version of a COCC course that requires 40 hours a week from each student over an 11 week period.

Megan Michell, director of the Assistant Nursing Program, explained what fields students were studying when we arrived for a visit Wednesday.

"They're focused on the cardiovascular system and respiratory system," she said. "And also, peri-operative care."

Students who pass their state exam can be enrolled into a CNA position at St. Charles Bend right away.

Lisa Dolinar, a clinical practice development specialist at St. Charles, said, "It's a six-week training program. And St. Charles implemented something called the 'graduate nurse assistant,' which allows them to immediately transfer to a department and work in the capacity as a CNA without having their license yet. They do have 120 days to get their license, however."

Wages start at $21.41/hour for students participating in the program and for a CNA entry-level position at St. Charles.

"My favorite part about this is everyone comes in the first couple of days just looking around," COCC Professor of Nursing Michelle Decker told us. "And then the next thing you know, they are just jelling, they are so helpful to one another. They mentor and help each other, and that I really enjoy seeing."

We caught up with a student named Geraldine Whitney, who's currently enrolled in the program.

"My classmates are great!" she said. "And just having this opportunity to just study and get paid at the same time is definitely a win-win for me."

Under the creative workforce solution, individuals who join the CNA training program are paid and receive benefits while undergoing their intensive 6-week training course. COCC instructors provide the instruction and facilitate the testing and the participants receive hands-on training at St. Charles Bend.

Individuals who are interested in applying to be part of the next CNA cohort can apply now to fill one of 20 seats. The next cohort will begin in October, and applications close Aug. 20.

Learn more about the CNA program.

Article Topic Follows: Central Oregon

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Blake Mayfield

Blake Mayfield is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Blake here.


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