Community partners fill need for nursing assistants


Four hospital beds, practice mannequins and computer systems for online record-keeping are part of the CNA training lab located in Holland Home. Courtesy Holland Home

Facing a shortage of certified nursing assistants, West Michigan health care leaders asked Grand Rapids Community College to start a CNA training program.

GRCC, which offers many training and certification courses alongside its associate degree programs, was eager to fill the gap. But the college needed help.

Holland Home, a senior care community with four area campuses and a corporate office, volunteered to host the program in a lab it would create at its headquarters, 2100 Raybrook St. SE.

Bill Pink, GRCC’s dean and vice president of workforce development and college president starting this summer, said the offer from Holland Home came at the right time.

“We started looking at what the possibilities were of starting such training here at GRCC,” he said. “But Holland Home stood up and said, ‘What if we provide that training space for GRCC?’ As (we) started with those conversations, it made more and more sense. It doesn’t put more strain on our facilities and puts our students out there in a real setting getting to work with a potential employer.”

Holland Home President and CEO Mina Breuker gives the bulk of the credit for sealing the deal to Doug Himmelein, vice president of human resources at Holland Home.

“(Doug) said, ‘What if we were able to provide this space for a class and provide clinical opportunities?’ which we already had,” she said.

“He called other nursing homes we partner with and said, ‘Do you have the capacity for more training for when (the CNA students) are done?’ Then he said to me, ‘I’ve got this idea; what do you think? It will cost us probably $25,000 or more.”

Holland Home and GRCC outlined what they would need to transform a former 1,200-square-foot office space into a lab, and Grand Rapids-based Post Associates Architects drew up the plans. Holland Home’s staff of electricians, plumbers and carpenters did the build-out.

The finished product, which includes classroom space seating 16, four hospital beds, practice mannequins and computer systems for online record-keeping, cost between $30,000 and $40,000. Holland Home paid for the renovations, and GRCC provided the equipment. The lab opened March 29.

Julie Parks, executive director of workforce training at GRCC, said the college created the CNA program using funds from the U.S. Department of Labor’s America’s Promise grant. GRCC won one of two grants awarded in Michigan in 2016, receiving $6 million.

The grant, issued Jan. 1, allows GRCC to offer the CNA program for $300 per student. Comparable programs charge closer to $1,200, Parks said.

“There’s a very large need for CNAs,” she said. “There are 245 openings in a seven-county region: Ottawa, Kent, Allegan, Barry, Ionia, Montcalm and Muskegon. The grant goes to the seven-county area.”

Twelve students enrolled in the first four-week cohort that began April 12. The program requires 112 hours of instruction, 70 of which are state curriculum certification hours. The rest of the program is devoted to teaching job readiness skills.

GRCC instructors teach the courses, and they bring in guest speakers from local long-term care facilities like Clark Retirement Community, Sunset Manor and Porter Hills.

During the hands-on portion of the CNA classes, Holland Home borrowed mechanical lifting equipment from one of its campuses, so the students could practice lifting the mannequins like they would lift patients.

“The students learn how to make a bed, give a bath, the activities of daily living — all the things they need to know, so they are ready to work efficiently after they complete their course,” Breuker said.

“They spend time in our skilled nursing facilities, they are assigned to an aide and they do work right alongside the aide.

“The thing clinicals do for everybody is when you get into a setting, you learn, ‘Is this what I want to do?’ It’s always different from classroom learning.”

Breuker said CNAs generally can work in nursing homes, assisted living, hospitals or as home health aides.

According to Parks, the current program certifies students for long-term care roles only, but GRCC is working on expanding the scope.

“We’re working with America’s Promise and area health care employers on developing an acute care CNA program,” Parks said.

Pink said the goal is to launch acute care CNA instruction by this fall.

The next cohort begins May 9 and will consist of 16 Latino students through a partnership with the Hispanic Center of West Michigan, Parks said.

“We also have community partners solving issues like child care and transportation,” Parks said.

Steve Ender, GRCC’s current president who is retiring June 30, said the community came together in ways that allowed GRCC to do more than it otherwise could.

“When you think about the scope and the different agencies involved and the support services they’re bringing to the table … we couldn’t do that complex of a program on our own,” he said. “We’re drawing in folks of different skill sets. It’s not owned by GRCC or Holland Home; it’s owned by six or eight different agencies working together.”

The partnering agencies referring students, helping with support services and providing job skills coaching include the Literacy Center of West Michigan, Grand Rapids Urban League, the Women’s Resource Center, the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, West Michigan Works! and Goodwill of Greater Grand Rapids.

Breuker said Holland Home has two primary motives for housing the CNA program: the need to foster more qualified job candidates for all of its facilities and the desire to give back to the community.

“It is helpful for Holland Home, because hopefully, students see how we operate and want to be part of it,” she said. “However, it is primarily for the benefit of the community. We are going to need more people to care for seniors. When you look at the population of people 65-plus, it’s growing. This work is hands on. We need people caring for people.”

Parks said the partnership is valuable for GRCC, because it allows students to have convenient access to clinical experience.

“The students can walk across the street and see (and work in) a long-term care facility,” she said.

She said graduates will qualify for jobs that may be a springboard into other opportunities.

“CNA is a great entry-level job for people — you can go on to be a nurse, a lab tech, all sorts of different things.”

She said once the students graduate, the partners bring in employers to do on-site job interviews.

“Then, if they’re not hired through that, the job developers work to help them find other placements. They usually (get hired) pretty fast.”

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