$202,500 Grant Helps North Idaho College Provide Specialized Training to Certified Nursing Assistants in Northern Idaho

Rehabilitation nurse Anna Pjesky, left, teaches certified nursing assistants Myriah Wilson, certified nursing assistant, Valley Vista and William Redican, certified nursing assistant, Kootenai Health, how to therapeutically wrap an amputated limb.

Thanks to the collaborative efforts of Kootenai Health, Valley Vista and Northwest Hospital Alliance in northern Idaho, Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) can now receive additional training essential in meeting community needs. When the need to have CNAs with advanced training as mental health assistants, as restorative assistants and as patient care coordinators was identified, these health care providers partnered with North Idaho College (NIC) to create professional instruction in these three health care specialties.

North Idaho College was given a $202,500 industry sector grant from the Idaho Workforce Development Training Fund which included $50,625 in funds from private sector partners Kootenai Health, Valley Vista and Northwest Hospital Alliance. This grant, administered by the Idaho Department of Labor, has enabled NIC to develop and implement these three training programs as well as hire instructors for each course.

CNAs can earn a mental health certification, a patient care certification or a restorative assistant certification. Once they pass the national or state certification exams required at the end of the course, CNAs typically also qualify for an increase in pay from their employer.

Hailey Smith

Hailey Smith

Hailey Smith, who holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and biochemistry from Whitworth University and works as a crisis intervention specialist at the Northern Idaho Crisis Center, was hired by NIC to teach the certified mental health assistant course. Smith discovered the importance of having this training while working as a CNA.

During her freshman year in the pre-med program at Whitworth, she was encouraged to become a CNA to get some hands-on experience and exposure to working in the medical industry. She later interned in the emergency room at Kootenai Health where her supervisors encouraged her to take the NIC course and become a certified mental health assistant.

Smith said the training a student goes through to become a certified nursing assistant is relatively easy. The eight-week training course provides an opportunity to start working in a short amount of time but mental health training is not included in the curriculum which leaves CNAs frustrated because they are less able to meet the needs of patients who have mental illness or dementia.

Smith said, “I took four years of psychology and still got a lot out of this course. The clinical, hands-on training you receive in this course really prepares you to help people who need mental health first aid. As a CNA, you want to help but don’t know how to help. This class teaches you to listen empathically and put the person first. By breaking down the stigma associated with mental health disorders and learning how you can help, you feel empowered to help.”

Dotty Heberer, the health professions coordinator at NIC, said the grant has been important for the employers as well as the community. “The success of this grant is visible in many ways. The CNAs are much more prepared and now have the confidence to help more people in the community.”

She added that the courses are important for the students as well. “These CNAs feel valued by their employers and more valuable as an employee. By investing in their employees, it has also helped employers to retain those nursing assistants and build employee loyalty.”

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Idaho employers finance the state’s Workforce Development Training Fund in its entirety through a 3 percent offset of the unemployment insurance tax. For a company to be eligible to receive training funds, it must pay a minimum wage of $12 per hour, provide employer-assisted medical benefits and sell its products or services primarily outside of the region where it is located.

The fund, established in 1996, is one of the state’s most powerful economic development tools available to support new and existing businesses as they seek to relocate or expand. Eligible companies are reimbursed for the cost of training new workers or existing employees at risk of layoff if their skills are not enhanced.

Learn more about how your business may be able to benefit from the many training resources, hiring incentives and other programs available through the Idaho Department of Labor.

–Kristie Winslow,
Technical writer, Idaho Department of Labor