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Our Opinion: Cheers to Minnesota's CNA training program and the long-term care staffing relief it provides

"It was truly awe-inspiring to watch this public-private partnership solve problems in real-time, moving mountains to ensure this program was a success," said Minnesota Office of Higher Education Commissioner Dennis Olson. "I truly believe this could be a model for scaling up training in other high-need career areas.”

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The following is an opinion piece by the Detroit Lakes Tribune. It reflects the views of the Detroit Lakes Tribune editorial board. To submit a response, email nbowe@dlnewspapers.com

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DETROIT LAKES — Certified nursing assistants are the lifeblood of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities: They help patients eat and take medications; monitor their vital signs and keep an eye on them; groom and bathe them; help them exercise and get in and out of wheelchairs; and make sure their rooms have blankets, pillows, medical equipment and bathroom essentials, among other things.

Nursing home staffing levels are vital, and a shortage of workers means fewer residents can be admitted. That’s a problem for people trying to get into a nursing home — some end up in homes farther away from friends and family — and it means less revenue for nursing homes, which is a whole other issue.

Staffing shortages at long-term care facilities and veterans homes is a problem across Minnesota, so it was nice to hear some good news on the subject: Gov. Tim Walz has exceeded his goal to recruit and train 1,000 new certified nursing assistants.

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With long-term care facilities facing staffing shortages throughout the state, The Next Generation Nursing Assistant initiative was launched in January with $3.4 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds. The program pays the cost of tuition, books, uniforms and certification exam fees for anyone interested in pursuing a career as a nursing assistant.

As of March, 1,278 Minnesotans have participated in the initiative, including 940 people enrolled in free training courses offered by Minnesota State or a private training provider. Another 338 high school students got the training through their local school districts, with the state paying for their certification exams.

“Training over a thousand Minnesotans in three months is no small feat,” said Minnesota Office of Higher Education Commissioner Dennis Olson. “I commend the staff and instructors of Minnesota State and private training providers for their selflessness in scaling up operations and outreach. It was truly awe-inspiring to watch this public-private partnership solve problems in real-time, moving mountains to ensure this program was a success. I truly believe this could be a model for scaling up training in other high-need career areas.”

The state has budgeted $6.7 million to continue the initiative, and Walz is asking for another $13.3 million for fiscal year 2024-2025.

Students who have completed their training are now in the process of taking their certification exams. Once certified, the new certified nursing assistants will be ready to go to work at hospitals, nursing homes and veterans homes.

More good news: By reaching this goal, the state is able to continue relieving the 400 members of the National Guard who were deployed as emergency temporary nursing assistants in long-term care facilities and veterans homes across Minnesota, at times including several facilities in the Detroit Lakes area.

Interested in participating? Free courses are still available. Check out the initiative at the Minnesota Office of Higher Education website.

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