Rural Colorado Tries to Fill Health Worker Gaps With Apprenticeships

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — During her 12-hour overnight shift, Brianna Shelton helps residents at BeeHive Homes Assisted Living go to the bathroom. Many of them have dementia, and some can’t get out of bed on their own. Only a few can remember her name, but that doesn’t matter to her.

“They’re somebody’s mom, somebody’s grandma, somebody’s great-grandmother,” Shelton said. “I want to take care of them like I would take care of my family.”

Shelton received an apprenticeship to become a personal caregiver through a program created to address the need for more health care workers throughout rural Colorado. Here, far from Denver’s bustling urban corridor, worker shortages mount as baby boomers retire, young people move away from these older communities, and demand for health care in homes and facilities rises.

Many rural areas have Residents 65 and older have a larger share of residents Urban areas have fewer direct care workers than rural ones. According to a study published in the journal, rural areas have fewer personal care aides and direct care workers to assist people with disabilities than those living in urban areas. Health Affairs.

In addition to increasing the number direct care workers, the Colorado apprenticeship programme offers opportunities to improve earning power for residents living below the poverty line, those who lost their jobs in the covid-19 epidemic, and those who are unemployed or underemployed. They can become certified nursing assistants or personal care aides to help with direct health care such as checking blood pressure or cleaning up after patients.

Apprentices are trained at the Western Colorado Area Health Education Center in Grand Junction. Students who live in rural areas can also be paid by the center to attend Technical College of the Rockies. The apprentices receive on-the-job training with one of 58 local employers — an assisted living facility, for example — and they are required to work there for one year. Every apprentice is assigned an employer mentor. Additionally, mentorship is offered by Western Colorado AHEC staff.

“We really just want students to get into health care, get jobs, and retain those jobs,” said Georgia Hoaglund, executive director of Western Colorado AHEC, which has 210 active apprentices and was bolstered by a $2 million grant from the U.S. Labor Department in 2021.

Some apprentices are recent high-school graduates. Some are single mothers, veterans or widows. These people often face educational or economic obstacles to employment. Hoaglund and her 10-strong staff buy scrubs for apprentices so that they can start new jobs wearing the right uniforms. Staff members pay for apprentices’ gas if they can’t afford to fill up their tanks to drive to work. They speak to apprentices by phone every other week, or monthly.

Although the apprenticeship program provides a solid foundation, workers can find it stressful and often receive low salaries and burnout. Hoaglund said that career advancement can be difficult because of the cost or logistics of higher education. Hoaglund, who calls her staff family and some of the apprentices her kids, dreams of offering more advanced training — in nursing, for example — with scholarship money.

Apprenticeships are most commonly known as a tool for training workers among electricians and plumbers. However, they can be used as a way to create a need pipeline of direct care health workers according to Robyn stone, senior vice president of research at LeadingAge (an association of non-profit providers of aging service).

“Traditionally, health care employers have hired people after they finish a training program,” said Susan Chapman, a registered nurse and a professor in the school of nursing at the University of California-San Francisco. “Now, we’re asking the employer to take part in that training and pay the person while they’re training.”

According to Stone and Chapman, the pandemic caused a shortage of direct-care workers. This could have encouraged employers to invest in apprenticeship programs. Federal investment could be a benefit, as a Biden administration initiative that improves the quality of nursing homes also includes $35 million in grants for rural areas to address shortages in workforce.

Brandon Henry was a student working at a pet store in Grand Junction, Colorado, before he joined the Western Colorado Area Health Education Center’s apprenticeship program to become a certified nursing assistant. He Expects to become a registered nurse after graduating from Colorado Mesa University. (Kate Ruder for KHN)

Shelton was not a nurse before she moved to Fruita. It is a small community about 12 miles north of Grand Junction, and is surrounded red sandstone towers. She A year ago, I moved to Fresno from California to care for my uncle with multiple sclerosis. She and her 16-year-old daughter live in a trailer home on her uncle’s property, where Blackie, her rescue Labrador retriever, roams with the chickens and cats.

Blackie sometimes goes with Shelton to BeeHive, to visit the residents. Shelton stated that the job is more than just a job and that she is thankful to the apprenticeship program. “It opened a door for me,” Shelton said.

Shelton, who works three 12-hour shifts per week, also takes care of her niece and daughter. However, Shelton said she is struggling to have enough money to buy gas, groceries, and other necessities.

She It is not the only one. Chapman said that personal care aides often get underpaid and undervalued. He has also found significantly higher poverty rates among them than the general population.

Nationally, direct care workers make an average of $13.56 per hour. A study by PHI, a non-profit policy group, found that 80% of respondents are women.These low wages make it difficult to recruit and retain workers, which leads to instability and further shortages.

To keep workers in state, Colorado raised the minimum wages With money from the American Rescue Plan Act, personal care aides can earn up to $15 an hour as certified nursing assistants. And the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing’s 2023-24 budget request includes a bump to $15.75. Similar efforts are being made to increase wages in 18 states, including New York and Florida. A recent survey also found that similar efforts were underway in Texas, Florida, New York, and Florida. Paper from the National Governors Association.

Offering specialized training in dementia care or medication management is another way to retain apprentices and to encourage career growth and salary growth. “What apprenticeships offer are career mobility and advancement,” Stone said.

Newly certified nursing assistants must complete in-class training and clinical rotations in order to be able to practice in Colorado. They also need to pass a certification exam that includes a written test as well as a skills test. Hoaglund acknowledged that students can find the testing requirements stressful. Shelton, 43, passed the written exam, but Shelton must take the skills test again to be licensed as a certified nurse assistant.

Hoaglund’s program started in 2019, but it really took off with the 2021 federal grant. Since then 16 people have completed this program and received promotions or pay raises. The program has been completed twice as many times than the number of people who have not finished. The largest hospital in Grand Junction, Intermountain Healthcare-St. Mary’s Medical Center, recruits workers from the program.

Hoaglund stated that every person who enters the field of health care is a winner.

Brandon Henry (23 years old) was a student of Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction. He also worked at PetSmart prior to joining the 2019 apprenticeship program. After After enrolling, he was trained as a nursing assistant and worked through the worst of pandemic. He explained that as an apprentice, he learned how important it was to have grace when caring for patients.

He To earn a license to dispense medicine in licensed facilities such as assisted living centers, he returned to Western Colorado AHEC for further training. He now works at Intermountain Healthcare-St. Mary’s Medical Center, where he took training classes in wound care and physical therapy hosted at the hospital. This winter, he’ll graduate from Colorado Mesa with a Bachelor of Science in nursing.

“At the hospital, I’ve found more opportunities for pay raises and job growth,” Henry said.

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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