New state program to tackle nursing assistant shortage

Published: Apr. 3, 2017 at 6:27 PM CDT
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A shortage of nursing assistants in Wisconsin has the state launching a new program to recruit, train, and retain healthcare workers.

A federal grant through the Department of Health Services will allow the state to implement the Wisconsin Caregiver Program.

The program's goal is to add up to 3,000 nurse aides to the workforce.

Dove Healthcare West says between 2012 and 2015 there was a decrease of around 5,000 nursing assistants entering the field.

The assisted living facility says adding 3,000 CNA's to the workforce is a step in the right direction but won't solve the problem.

Reginal nurse consultant Joey Pettis said, “Three-thousand will it help? Absolutely. Will it solve the crisis? No.”

Pettis says the $2.3 million federal investment into the program is a start to help stem Wisconsin’s healthcare worker crisis.

“Part of that is because of the decrease in the workforce in general and the other part is the decrease in young individuals entering the healthcare field,” explained Pettis.

According to data from DHS by 2040 the state’s 65 and older population is supposed to increase by 10 percent but in Wisconsin one in seven caregiver positions is vacant.

“What we're doing in our facilities is having people work extra shifts, we don't take admissions when we're unable to,” added Pettis. “What that does is it backlogs the hospitals so it actually takes beds away from people who might need hospital beds because we don't have the staff to care for them.”

DHS says the program will partner with the Wisconsin Technical College System to offer training and testing at no cost to students and also implement a $500 retention bonus for nurse aides after six months on the job.

“It's very rewarding work but physically demanding and the wages aren't strong as some other type positions with that education, said CVTC Associate Dean of Health Amy Olson.

Chippewa Valley Technical College says it hopes the program will also create awareness of the value of caregiving through its marketing and recruitment plan.

Olson added, “They are the backbone of what a lot of us other healthcare professionals do. CNA'S are sometimes the unspoken heroes.”

In a statement DHS told WEAU they're excited to launch the program but that they're still in the early stages.

The next step is to put together an implementation plan with DHS partners within the next few weeks to see how to attract more workers to the field.