Next month ten Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center employees will begin training to become licensed practical nurses. When they are licensed as nurses, they will step up to important jobs as trained caregivers, jobs that have often been filled by nurses known as "travelers," that is, trained nurses from off-Island who make daily or weekly trips to work at Windemere, in part because of the premium in compensation and allowances that the Island facility must pay to maintain necessary, licensed staff. There are too few Vineyard residents with the required nursing credentials and too few capable Vineyard residents who can take the time and spend the money to travel to mainland nursing schools for the training required for licensure.
Windemere's pursuit of a solution to this chronic staffing problem led its director to the state's Department of Workforce Development, which has furnished a Workforce Training Fund grant of $104,974. The funding will make LPN training available tuition-free to Islanders already serving in patient care at Windemere, but as certified nursing assistants, not as nurses. The Workforce Training Fund is a $21 million program that provides matching grants of up to $250,000 to finance training for workers who are already employed. Businesses provide the money through their contributions to the state's unemployment insurance program.
The state's contribution will not underwrite the total cost of the initiative. Windemere must pay to house the nursing instructor, maintain the ten employees' benefits and provide paid time off for them to attend classes.
Taken together, the commitment of the state and Windemere is significant, but the benefits are more significant still. If it is successful, this new program will help Windemere hold the line on costs in a health care economy that is brutal to nursing homes, many of which have already been forced out of business by the vise grip of high costs and reduced reimbursements. It will enhance the experience of Vineyarders who are Windemere patients, because the caregivers on whom they depend will be neighbors and friends, not transient workers. They will be familiar, encouraging helpers for Islanders in difficult circumstances. And, finally, it will open the door to a career path for Islanders with an impulse to help but an inability to manage the demands of daily life and a training program that until now has only been available off Island. For those who succeed, they will see their career prospects brighten considerably: certified nursing assistants, the pool of workers from which the LPN students will be drawn, generally earn between $11 and $15 per hour, with benefits. LPNs earn between $18 and $22 per hour plus benefits.
What's the bottom line? Debbie BenDavid of Oak Bluffs, a nurse for more than 40 years and the only working day nurse at Windemere from the Vineyard, defined it for Times news editor Nelson Sigelman. "It's really important for this pilot program to get off the ground and have these CNAs who are dedicated to all these residents have a career in this," Ms. BenDavid said. "...They are my backbone.... They come in as a CNA, they wash the residents, they dress them and do all the other things, and now all of a sudden they are all excited that they are going to have a new career. It is really exciting for everybody."