A growing shortage of qualified health care workers in long-term care facilities has spurred a team of researchers at the University of Georgia College of Public Health to take action.
Faculty and staff from CPH’s Institute for Disaster Management and Institute of Gerontology have launched the Georgia CNA Career Pathway Initiative, with support of an $11 million grant from the Georgia Department of Public Health, to attract and retain more people to the workforce.
The initiative is a multifaceted effort that meshes student recruitment efforts, career development strategies and mental health support to grow the number of certified nursing assistants (CNAs) in the field. It’s an innovative effort to address the ongoing workforce challenges confronting long-term care facilities.
“I think a lot of people really don’t know about this field, and the work we’re doing can help get the word out about the profession, what it is, how valuable it is, and how needed it is,” said Curt Harris, director of the Institute for Disaster Management and lead investigator. “It’s a meaningful career.”
CNAs are entry-level members of a patient’s health care team, providing patient-centered care under the guidance of licensed nursing staff. Responsibilities include performing a variety of tasks that help patients with daily living activities, enabling CNAs to build close relationships with those they serve and making them vital in the early detection of new symptoms.
Addressing a growing need
CNAs regularly serve in long-term care facilities that provide enhanced health care and wellness monitoring for patients. However, fewer people are choosing this career path, putting a strain on existing facilities and their ability to provide high-quality care.
“CNAs are immensely important to a long-term care facility, and they just don’t have enough frankly,” said program coordinator Austin Dobbs. “It’s hard to pull people into the community due to misconceptions – low wages and other various reasons – some of which we’re trying to get at with this grant.”
The U.S. population is skewing older and older. In fact, in the last 10 years, the number of Americans over age 65 has risen from 13% to 17%. This growing population will require a disproportionate amount of medical care in the coming years. Without a properly trained and sufficiently sized staff to handle this influx of individuals, the likelihood of negative health outcomes rises.
Not only are there fewer CNAs entering the workforce, but turnover at long-term care facilities is high when compared to other industries. Pre-pandemic data has shown the annual turnover for CNAs can be as high as 90%, and now the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the pressure on the system.
“Retention is a huge issue,” said co-investigator Jenay Beer, who is the associate director for the Institute of Gerontology and leading the education arm of the project.
“It’s important to ensure that people in these positions are viewing it as an important part of their career, whether it’s a steppingstone to other positions or maintaining their job as the CNA.”
Attracting, retaining new talent
Student recruitment efforts will center around engaging high schools and career academies to introduce students to the career pathways for CNAs. This will include speaking opportunities at various schools, targeted advertising efforts and traditional recruitment investments such as college fairs.
The program also will introduce various financial incentives to boost interest that can be deployed at different points through the student’s journey, including after accepting a position at a long-term care facility.
To facilitate better retention in the industry, the College is coordinating with Central Georgia Technical College and Georgia Health Care Association to develop a curriculum that will promote workforce development and career opportunities for current CNAs. Additionally, the group is developing a mental health support team that facility staff can rely on for mental wellness, as well as preparing infection prevention toolkits to address disease outbreaks.
Other project partners include Alliant Health Solutions. Program recruitment begins this fall.
Learn more about the CNA Career Pathway Initiative at https://gacnainitiative.org/