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Hundreds of nursing assistants training to help Minnesota's strained health system

In December, Gov. Walz announced a plan to prepare 1,000 nursing assistants by the end of January, and so far the numbers look to exceed expectations.

MINNEAPOLIS — Editor's note: The video above first aired on Nov. 22, 2021. 

In December, Governor Tim Walz and health officials announced a goal to recruit and train 1,000 new certified nursing assistants (CNAs) by the end of January. 

That target is much desired, seeing Minnesota's long-term care facilities are facing severe staffing shortages.

Also in December, the state said it had more than 23,000 long term care positions open.

Keeping students in programs that train CNAs has been a significant challenge. Statewide enrollment data shows more than 11,500 students enrolled in certified nursing assistant programs between 2017 and 2020, but only 5,100 of them completed a CNA credential.

Of the remaining students who started the schooling, only 1,500 were still enrolled in a CNA program by fall of 2020.

Governor Walz gambled that funneling $3.5 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds would do the job of making sure those who enroll in school to become a CNA, actually become one.

So far, the results appear promising. 

Dennis Olson, commissioner for the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, said Wednesday the governor's expectation of 1,000 CNAs will likely be exceeded.

"This training just starting rolling this month, but we have 435 Minnesotans enrolled in a training program through the Minnesota State College and University system," Olson said.

He added that 76 additional candidates were enrolled through HeartCert, a CNA program based in Eagan. 

Olson said the system now has the capacity to train 820 students at one time. He also noted that of 319 high schoolers currently enrolled in CNA training, 129 will finish their program by march, with 190 wrapping up by the end of the school year.

Valeria DeFor, executive director with Minnesota State HealthForce Center of Excellence, said starting wages are always increasing.

"Historically, the wages for nurse assisting has been on the low side... increasingly higher wages are coming," DeFor said. 

Douglas Hughes, deputy commissioner of Veterans Health Care with the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, said the industry has significant upward mobility.

"We encourage all our nursing certified assistants to seek out training and advance, we want you to come in the door and leave as the director of nursing, that's our goal," Hughes said. " You're going to be the director of nursing some day and I expect you to be there."

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