Virginia Health Services celebrates CNA Week

Virginia Health Services invests in the education and growth of its CNAs with apprenticeship program

Virginia Health Services celebrates its Certified Nurses Assistants (CNAs) daily – and is thanking them during CNA Week, which begins June 17 and runs through June 23.

The week is dedicated to thanking the work of CNAs in VHS facilities, and those team members will receive lunches and other forms of recognition.

VHS is invested in its development of CNAs. While it always has offered training classes and employment opportunities, Virginia Health Services doubled-down on its commitment this year by offering an earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program.

VHS is participating in the Healthcare Apprenticeship Expansion Program (HAEP), which is funded with a Department of Labor Closing the Skills Gap Grant and has an emphasis on careers in senior living. Employer partners are reimbursed for a portion of their apprentice training costs.

A new cohort begins every five to six weeks, and two classes have graduated from the program from Care Assistants to Nurses’ Aides. Most are employed by VHS’s nursing and rehabilitation facilities as they prepare for the state certification exam to be a CNA.

The VHS education team aids in exam-prep with review sessions and other resources.

CNAs essential to long-term care

Apprentices check their cart stock while gaining their clinical experience at York Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center.

As VHS celebrates CNA Week, it recognizes the important role CNAs play in caring for Residents.

“They are essential to long-term care,” says instructor Nora Gillespie. “They are the eyes and ears for the nurses. They spend the most time with the Residents.”

VHS Director of Education Bryanna Rhodes said often CNAs are the first person a Resident sees in the morning and the last person they see at night. CNAs are responsible for grooming care, helping Residents dress and a host of skills that put them on the frontlines of Resident care.

“The students are invested in the Residents,” Gillespie said, “and the Residents are invested in the students.”

Revamped course

The state of Virginia recently updated and revised its training objectives for CNAs. Gillespie, Rhodes and instructor Ann Armstrong recently restructured the CNA training program to make it more visually engaging as they factored in how best to present a curriculum of nearly 400 pages to students.

“VHS has an excellent program. It’s a good way to launch your career,” Gillespie said.

Apprentices learn 22 skills and cover over 650 PowerPoint slides over the course of five weeks. The course covers laws of long-term care, HIPPA, COVID best practices, residents’ rights, safety, infection control and how care should be delivered.

They spend six days in a VHS facility to gain clinical experience.

The training is paid. The apprentices also become employees of VHS in that time, and there is continually room to grow and educational opportunities. The apprenticeship program pays for its participants to take the certification exam once their Nursing Assistant certificate is completed.

“It’s more than just a CNA class,” said Rhodes, “it’s an opportunity for growth and to gain experience.”

The apprenticeship class works on patient care, including how to change linens, with instructor Nora Gillespie.

There are several VHS employees who have advanced in the company after starting their careers as CNAs, including Walter Reed Administrator Bryant Hudgins and Coliseum Assistant Director of Nursing Princess Williams.

Benefits of Virginia Health Services apprenticeship

VHS offers the continuing education tools to make it possible.

Rhodes said VHS has relationships with several nursing schools, and it also offers tuition reimbursement.

“It’s more than getting a CNA in the building,” Rhodes said. “It’s a career with VHS.”

The class is just the beginning for students, Gillespie said.

And with smaller class sizes – limited by the state to 10 students per instructor – VHS’s education staff can really focus on the students and get to know them.

“The students are our coworkers,” Rhodes said. “We create an atmosphere of wanting our team members to succeed.”

The focus on students allows instructors like Gillespie and Armstrong to find what motivates them.

“You help them find the light within themselves,” Gillespie said.

The apprenticeship program also helps alleviate barriers to employment for the students. There is assistance available through Family Scholar House, which can offer resources and funds to help cover academic coaching, affordable housing, transportation, child care, emergencies and more. It is offered to those in the HAEP grant program at no additional charge.

Family Scholar House is available to apprentices throughout the course of the year of their apprenticeship.

CNAs have always been needed on the frontlines

CNAs have always been on the frontlines. The profession began around the time of World War I, and certified nurses’ aides with the American Red Cross worked alongside Army nurses to treat wounded soldiers.

Valedictorian Sabrina Baylor receives her certificate from instructor Nora Gillespie.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment in health care to grow 15% from 2019 to 2029, adding about 2.4 million new jobs. The Bureau attributes the projected growth to an aging population and increased need in health care services.

The VHS apprenticeship program will expand. There are several opportunities being examined, including pathways for LPNs, and in pharmaceutical, dietary, housekeeping, and administration and leadership.

A new cohort of apprentices starts June 21, and it’s the largest class yet at 14 students on the Peninsula and Middle Peninsula.

Visit the Careers page to learn more and how to apply. Virginia Health Services has a continued need to add heroes to its frontlines.

If you see a CNA this week, remember to thank them for their care and service to a loved one.