Grant will allow Windemere to train nurses
The career horizon has expanded for ten employees of the Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. This week they began a tuition-free ten-month training program to become licensed practical nurses.
For employees unable to take the time to travel to the mainland for advanced training, the opportunity for educational advancement on-Island is an exciting development. The program is funded in part by a state grant.
On Tuesday an official from the Massachusetts department of workforce development traveled to the Island to officially present Windemere director Ken Chisholm with a Workforce Training Fund grant for $104,974. The brief photo session outside a dining hall where elderly residents ate lunch downplayed the significance of a program hospital officials expect will provide significant future dividends.
The state workforce training fund, established in January 1999 and administered by the Department of Workforce Development, is a $21 million program that provides matching grants of up to $250,000 to finance incumbent worker training. It is funded by a per person charge that businesses pay into the state unemployment insurance program.
Michael Corcoran, department of workforce development field supervisor (left), presents Windemere executive director Ken Chisholm and director of nursing Marie Zadeh with a symbolic grant award. Photo by Ralph Stewart
On Tuesday, Michael Corcoran, training fund program field supervisor, said that running a nursing home is a difficult business that is compounded when it is located on an Island. He said the Windemere grant application grew out of a meeting he had with Mr. Chisholm two years earlier and the state's determination to find a way to help.
Mr. Corcoran said the training that the grants provide does make a difference. "I love this program for what it does for people," he said before he posed for a photo with Mr. Chisholm.
What hospital officials hope it will do for Windemere is reduce the nursing home's reliance on outside labor and lead to a permanent program that can provide a nursing career path for Island high school graduates who want to remain on the Vineyard.
A current shortage of trained nurses is acutely felt in the struggling nursing home industry. For Windemere, filling the labor gap requires the use of six so-called "travelers," contract licensed practical nurses (LPN) brought here from off-Island at great additional expense for the nursing home.
As part of the grant's match requirement, Windemere will pay the housing costs for the course instructor, maintain the ten employees' benefits and provide paid time off for them to attend classes.
A CNA generally earns between $11 and $15 per hour, with benefits. LPNs earn between $18 and $22 per hour, with benefits, said Mr. Chisholm. "I am very excited about this," he said. "We've been working for the last three years to try to find a way to bring this LPN education to the Island."
Mr. Chisholm credited Mr. Corcoran with helping Windemere to find a way to bring the training here. "The idea of having Island residents take care of our residents is pretty exciting," he said. "Because they are vested in the community and can provide continuity of care."
The ten employees selected for the program were required to pass an LPN test. All must commit to work two years.
There are currently 72 residents in the 81-bed Windemere facility, which includes an assisted living section, skilled nursing care unit, and Alzheimer's unit.
Mr. Chisholm said that LPNs provide an important level of care that includes clinical assessments, providing medication and following up on physician's instructions. "They are the front line," said Mr. Chisholm. "They are seeing the resident every day, all three shifts, seven days a week."
Tim Walsh, CEO of Martha's Vineyard Hospital, said he is optimistic about the possibilities that the on-Island program represents for the hospital-owned institution. He said Windemere employees are a dedicated group. "You go over there and watch them and they are so patient and caring," said Mr. Walsh. "They really do God's work."
Melissa Pelletier of Edgartown, a clinical nursing assistant (CNA) who has worked at Windemere for approximately 12 years, will be in the class. The mother of three children, she said it is just not possible for people with mortgages and bills to take time off from work to commute to the mainland for classes. "So for the education to come to us is just a dream come true," she said.
Health-care experts acknowledge that nursing home care is a special calling. Ms. Pelletier said that for her, Windemere is part of an extended Island community.
"I love it," she said. "I see myself as being the type of person who can help these kind of people. I see them really as my surrogate grandparents, that's how I view it and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. It is rewarding in so many ways."
She describes the residents and employees as members of a big family. Ms. Pelletier said Windemere is a good employer and the training program she is about to enter is just one more example of how it provides for the employees. "I can't wait," she said.
Debbie BenDavid of Oak Bluffs has been a nurse for more than 40 years and is the only working day nurse at Windemere still from the Vineyard. She says the program is very important for the future of the Vineyard because older nurses are leaving the profession.
Highlighting the importance of a community-based training program, Ms. BenDavid said almost all of the residents are from the Vineyard as are the majority of the caregivers, so there is a strong sense of family and community because of all the familiar faces. She is worried that the loss of a strong community connection could erode those ties. "So 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," she said.
And what does Ms. BenDavid think about the CNAs? "Oh, I love them," she said. "They are wonderful. They are my backbone."
And she is thrilled about what it means for the women in the program. "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," Ms. BenDavid said. "It is really exciting for everybody."