Paul Bergeron​Nonprofit groups are stepping up their efforts to grow the nursing and long term care workforce through creative and uplifting programs that give candidates full-time jobs both during training and upon graduation.

The Jack and Nancy Dwyer Workforce Development Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, works with other not-for-profits, partner workforce development organizations, and training partners to develop workers. Its students, called Dwyer Scholars, complete their training, participate in clinicals, and then take the Board of Nursing exam.

The program’s goal is to “help those who lack opportunity and aspire to pursue a career in the healthcare industry by removing barriers that prevent them from success,” Dwyer Workforce Development CEO Barb Clapp said. “Our mission is also to alleviate a severe healthcare workforce shortage and improve the lives of seniors.”

Dwyer Workforce Development’s goal is to help those who lack opportunity and remove barriers that prevent them from success by providing free certified nursing assistant (CNA) job training. Once certified, DWD places Dwyer Scholars into full-time positions through its network of long term care industry partners. In 2022 DWD, based in Baltimore, trained 286 scholars in Maryland; the program has a 95 percent stick rate.

DWD recently executed a $590 million acquisition of a Texas-based skilled-nursing-facility portfolio managed by Regency Integrated Health Services. With the acquisition, it transitioned the portfolio from a for-profit to a not-for-profit organization, which was the vision of entrepreneur Jack Dwyer to end systemic poverty and address the growing workforce crisis plaguing the health care industry.

“He wanted to fund the Texas program in perpetuity,” Clapp said. In Texas, DWD will train an additional 414 scholars and employs about 6,750.

Set Up for Success on Day One

As part of the training process, Dwyer Scholars are paired with case managers who work closely with them to identify career ladder goals to achieve over several years—keeping them on track for success. On a need basis, Dwyer Scholars are provided with wrap-around services, which include financial support for housing, childcare, transportation, and more, ensuring students are set up to succeed from day one.

“Our scholars could be single paycheck mothers, young people who have had enrichment programs in city schools but can’t afford pursuing a health care career in college, from foster homes, formerly in addictive treatments or recovering from domestic violence programs,” Clapp said. “If their child is sick and can’t go to school, they have no one to care for them. The case management support that we offer them makes the difference.”

In one case, a scholar had her child in daycare, but the daily training time period conflicted with the daycare schedule, so the case manager was able to get the scholar into training hours that fit her schedule.

“These are the types of conflicts that can happen to any adult who is just trying to get ahead,” Clapp said. DWD also uses an app as an incentive tool that rewards participants for active participation in the Dwyer Scholar program.

“They are encouraged to check in daily to let their case manager know how they are doing,” Clapp said. The scholar is rewarded for staying in the program at 3-, 6-, 9-month, and one-year intervals. “They get points and can cash the points in for gift cards and other needed items such as scrubs or work shoes.”

MaineGeneral Offers Work While Students Train

MaineGeneral Health has been operating its CNA Earn to Learn training program since 2018, offering four classes per year. More than 200 students have graduated from the program. By finding more trainers, in 2022, the number of classes MaineGeneral conducted doubled from four to eight.

To drive participation, MaineGeneral recruiters attend job fairs to engage with the community one-on-one. Recruiters also visit students at local schools, use social media platforms, engage local radio stations, and post on job sites. The program also recruits internally from non-clinical entry-level positions throughout its health system.

There are other CNA training programs in the state of Maine but Tarsha Rodrigue, Administrative Director at MaineGeneral Rehabilitation and Long Term Care, said Earn to Learn differentiates itself from the others because it hires its students into full-time positions.

Students’ time in class is supplemented with paid work hours serving in its skilled rehabilitation and long term care facilities. When not in clinical and class, the students are working as helpers in the facility, engaging with residents, participating in activities, and stocking and tidying rooms.

“This program has significantly helped in recruiting into the CNA role and beyond,” Rodrigue said. “We have graduates from this program who have continued to grow professionally and work in other areas of the organization.” Some are now medical assistants, CNA-medication technicians, phlebotomists, and registered nurses.

“Prior to the pandemic, this program assisted our long-term care facilities in eliminating agency and temporary labor,” Rodriguez said. “I am very proud of our CNA training program. We expect it to continue the success it has seen so far. This course is about so much more than meeting our staffing needs.”

More Than Staffing, An Opportunity

MaineGeneral holds a ceremony after each class graduates. There, at least one student shares with the group inspiring stories about how the class has given them a new opportunity, fulfilled a dream, or gave them a new purpose.

Aubrey Trout, a December 2022 graduate, got a late start on her career. “I decided that I would very much like to become a nurse, and at going on 40 years old, I should probably get a move on,” Trout said.

“However, at that point in time I would not have been able to afford paying for a CNA course, let alone nursing school. As I was searching for options that I could realistically consider, the MaineGeneral opportunity presented itself to me, so I seized it. I am now a CNA with intentions of becoming a registered nurse, and I feel like I have found the path I was looking for.”

She said the residents and the relationships she has developed with them over time makes it a rewarding career. “There is something profound and beautiful about having the trust of someone to do for them the things they cannot do for themselves,” Trout said. “I feel quite privileged to be in a position to provide that kind of care, and in a way that makes what is often times the remainder of someone’s life as comfortable and as meaningful as possible.”