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Nursing assistants and home health aid training center opens in HL
Monday, July 30, 2012
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By Jennifer Kotila
Staff Writer

HOWARD LAKE, MN – April and Larry Anderson opened their nursing assistant registered (NAR) and home health aid (HHA) training center in Howard Lake June 1, at the corner of US Highway 12 and Eighth Avenue.

Offering small class sizes (less than 10 students per class), Anderson’s NAR/HHA Training provides an intimate learning environment for those who want an entry-level position in the nursing or healthcare field.

Originally located in Cokato, the training center had outgrown its previous building, which April attributes to the economy and the difficulty people are having finding jobs.

An open house will take place during the Wright County Fair, Thursday through Saturday, Aug. 2-4 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“It will be a cool place to come and have a bite to eat during the fair,” April said.

The Andersons will offer tours of the facility, and a light lunch of barbecues, beans, chips, and dessert will be served.

Increased need for NARs and HHAs

Although not for everyone, people who go through NAR/HHA training are pretty much guaranteed a job when they complete the course, April said.

“I trained 120 students last year, and I bet none of them are unemployed,” she added.

She noted that nursing homes and assisted living facilities are always hiring for NARs and HHAs.

Between the years 2025 and 2030, it is projected that the US will be 60,000 short the number of NARs and HHAs needed to care for its citizens, April said.

Additionally, in 2004-05, there were 400 assisted living facilities in Minnesota, and now there are more than 1,500, according to April.

“They all need HHAs – increasing the need for HHAs – that’s why we do a combination program,” April said.

The economy has also changed the average age of her students, who, in the past, have typically been in their late teens to early 20s.

Becoming an NAR or HHA is a nice entry-level position that allows young people to see if they want to further a nursing career, April noted.

However, today the average age of her students is 46, and they range in age from 16 to 62.

Many of her students today also have a four-year college degree, but cannot find work or were laid off.

Older people in the program want to train in a field where they will be guaranteed a job in order to have health insurance, April noted.

“It’s neat to see the younger students, who are used to studying and learning, taking the older students under their wings,” April said.

The small class sizes accommodate this type of interaction between her students. It also allows the Andersons to better assist students who may be struggling, such as English language learners, April said.

Former students volunteer to come back to mentor students who may be struggling in a class, she added.

Students include local residents, and those who may travel 60 to 80 miles to come to the training, April noted.

“They like the small class size,” she said. “Our reputation has been built in 15 years.”

New location suits the training center

When looking for a new, bigger location, the Andersons found that the building in Howard Lake “suits our needs – like it was built for us,” April said.

The facility has room for a large classroom area with five beds in two suites, lifts, and wheelchairs. There are also two handicap bathrooms, which are used in training the students.

“We are delighted to be in Howard Lake – we love our building,” April said.

One item of concern for the Andersons is the safety of their students, especially the young women, when getting out of evening classes in the winter.

They made sure the parking lot was well-lit, and that the Howard Lake Police Department was willing to provide additional patrol during those times.

The residents of Howard Lake can expect to see the Andersons’ students out and about town while completing their training.

Students have to get accustomed to assisting elderly people – who may not see or hear well – in navigating the outside world. They practice transitioning from a hard surface – like concrete – to a softer surface – like grass – outside at the training center.

When practicing, the student playing the elderly person wears glasses smeared with Vaseline, and has cotton balls in his ears, as other students assist him.

After the classroom training is complete, students complete 24 hours of clinicals at the Golden Living Center in Delano or St. Mary’s Care Center in Winsted.

The Andersons will be hosting CPR and first aid training monthly at their facility in 2013, at the request of numerous entities throughout the community.

Opening doors for more opportunity

The Andersons first opened their NAR/HHA training school in February 1997, and have trained more than 3,000 NARs and HHAs in the 15 years since.

Before opening the training center, April was a registered nurse. She opened the school because of the need she saw for nursing assistants in all homes.

The timing to open the school was right, because it became federal and state law in 1997 for nursing facilities to reimburse their employees for completing a training program.

Everyone who goes through the program will be reimbursed for the money they have invested in their career by the nursing facility at which they are hired, Anderson said.

Many nursing homes also offer opportunities for their nursing assistants to further their careers by continuing with their education.

Minnesota reimburses nursing homes up to $5,000 per employee per year for continuing education, making it easier for NARs to become licensed practical nurses (LPN) and registered nurses (RN).

The majority of the students that April trains at the facility go on to become registered nurses, physicians, physicians assistants, or even dentists, she said.

“One just finished becoming a dentist. He became a nursing assistant first because he wanted to do hands-on care to work on his ‘soft skills,’” April said.

Keeping up with trends in the healthcare field

April became a registered nurse in 1984, and a number of changes have taken place in the nursing home industry since then.

One of the biggest changes is cultural. “It’s customer service oriented now. We do a lot more training on customer satisfaction,” April said. “It used to be more task oriented – institutionalized.”

She noted the holistic approach taken when caring for patients in nursing homes today, with residents choosing their care path.

Instead of set meal times, bed times, times to wake up, and times to bathe, residents decide their schedule.

Another change is the acuity, or mental sharpness, of patients in skilled nursing care facilities, April said.

“It’s not just the 80- and 90-year-olds in nursing homes, anymore. Many people ages 50 to 70 are going to nursing homes,” April said.

Patients are also coming to nursing homes just hours after surgery. “We don’t have easy patients, anymore,” April added, noting it has raised the skills needed by NARs to a different level.

Another difference is the number of bariatric patients, or those over 300 pounds.

“There is a lot more emphasis on body mechanics – safe handling and lifting,” April said.

Additionally, the Andersons recently added four more hours of Alzheimer’s training, increasing it from 96 hours of training to 100.

“In every nursing home or assisted living facility is someone with dementia,” April noted.

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