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Six certified nursing assistants graduate from new program

By SUSAN RIEMER

Staff Writer

Six Islanders have spent the last seven weeks at Vashon Community Care Center (VCCC) learning some of the most important and intimate care-taking skills. Three days a week for four to six hours a day they studied infection control, common illnesses in the elderly, the rights of nursing home residents, how to relate to people with dementia and assisting people with the basics of daily life — bathing, caring for nails, getting dressed, attending to bathroom needs and eating.

The six individuals — two men and four women — graduated last Monday from the first Certified Nursing Assistant course that VCCC has offered. All will work at VCCC after graduation, according to Judy Beggs, the director of nursing and the CNA program at the nursing home. Some will work full-time, others part-time and others on-call.

With the hands-on work they do, CNAs are vital to nursing homes and the well-being of their residents. Many nursing homes work with fewer CNAs for every resident than VCCC does, but the staff at VCCC believe more CNAs are essential for quality care and they schedule staff accordingly, Beggs said.

For their 28 to 30 residents, VCCC has four CNAs working during the day in its skilled nursing facility, three in the evening and two at night.

That is good staffing, according to Beggs, who said that some of the agency staff who have worked several places appreciate VCCC for this ratio and the difference it makes in their ability to provide good care.

On a small Island with a limited number of qualified applicants, the nursing home has often had to resort to staffing through an agency, which, hour per-hour, according to Beggs, is about twice as expensive as paying an employee directly. The nursing home is strained financially, so this extra expense was not a welcome one.

Just as importantly as the financial considerations, though, is that having an in-house training program allows Beggs to know more about the people she is hiring to work with the Island’s elders living at VCCC.

“It makes us more in control of how we get our staff. … I know the quality of the CNAs here,” Beggs said, noting that she is sure they are trained well.

Dave Long is one of the recent graduates who will work part time at VCCC. Asked last week when he will start, he said with a laugh, “Well, graduation is Monday, so I guess Tuesday.”

Long, 41, was looking a career change—from landscaping — when his brother-in-law was hospitalized with leukemia. Long helped with his care in the hospital, he said, and the hospital staff encouraged him to explore health care opportunities. Also, his wife’s aunt recently died of cancer. She had been a nurse earlier in her life, and she, too, encouraged Long to explore health care professionally, he said.

“It all worked out. I love it,” Long said. “When you help a resident and they are just so thankful, it’s amazing. … It’s a pleasure to help them out. It’s a good place,” he added.

Two years ago, CNA graduate Jennifer Tapley moved to Vashon from California with the goal of bringing her 93-year-old mother here and caring for her in the last years of her life. Tapley did most of her mother’s hands-on care for during that time, until her death last Easter, and loved it.

Her mother attended Break Time, a four-day a week adult day health program at VCCC.

"She really came alive there," Tapley said.

The experiences with her mother—and her desire to give something back to the community—led her to this program.

“I want to be able to work on the Island and give back,” she said, stressing that the care her mother received from the Vashon Health Center and from VCCC through Break Time was exceptional.

“I’ve been in many nursing homes and hospitals in a pastoral care capacity,” she said. “I have never visited anywhere where the residents are treated with the respect, dignity and care the way they are here.”

Tapley has a master’s of divinity and a master’s of marriage, family and child counseling. She worked in youth ministry in California, is doing a chaplaincy residency with the Franciscan Health Systems in Tacoma and is working in youth ministry at the Episcopal Church on Vashon. She hopes to work as a hospice chaplain or a nursing home chaplain when she completes her residency and believes this work fits well with that.

“It gives me an additional hands-on skill,” she said, adding that the CNA program has been a good one.

“They’ve managed to teach us an awful lot in a very short time. … I am confident and comfortable going out on the floor with the residents.”

Tapley will work on-call at the nursing home while she completes her chaplaincy residency.

Beggs wrote the program for the CNA course and included more than what the state requires. There is a movement among nursing homes called Culture Change, and one of its goals is to have facilities create a home-like environment that is real, welcoming and warm, Beggs said. Part of it is about developing relationships between staff and residents that includes good communication — communication as though staff and residents were peers.

“It’s about bringing in the kind of communication men and women really have about things that are important to them,” Beggs said.

Another tenet centers on working toward residents having more independence physically and mentally in large and small ways, from what they eat to their personal relationships at the nursing home.

The CNA graduates were also schooled in these goals and how best to bring them about in their work.

Beggs noted she is not certain when VCCC will hold another class; her hope, though, is hold the class twice a year. CNA turnover can be high; the work is sometimes difficult, and some people use it as a stepping stone as they work toward another career in the health care field and move on, she said.

This class was free to the six graduates; a gift of $6,000 from Granny’s Attic ensured the free tuition and also meant that the nursing home could buy books and supplies for the class and that Beggs could hire a nurse to work for her while she wrote the curriculum.

Until recently, Granny’s Attic had supported only the Vashon Health Center, but it has changed its by-laws and now will give money to other health-related non-profits on the Island while still supporting the Health Center with about $100,000 annually.

Both Long and Tapley noted their appreciation of being able to take this class — and for free.

"It's been a great program," Long said. "Thanks for the support. We're going to do our part to give back to the community."

Tapley concurred, saying, “I really hope that the Health Center board realizes the Granny’s Attic board is mirroring the same gift the Health Center board gave years ago when they brought other doctors to the Island. Deeply needed health care staff has been trained for this facility. There will be care here on the Island that we just would not have had without their foresight,” she said.

When Beggs started at the nursing home four years ago, one of the nurses told her that if she ever were going to be put in a nursing home, she wanted to be shot first. Beggs said that moment crystallized her goal at VCCC.

“I knew my mission would be to make this a kind of place they and I would want to be in our later years.”

The new CNAs – and their training—are part of that mission.

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