Fulton Center meets nursing shortage head on

Graduating students from the Fulton Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare’s free, on-site “first of its kind” certified nursing assistant program are shown. Top Row, left to right are: Administrator of Fulton Center Leonard Hirsch, Brittany Arkazana, Catherine Millington, Erika Foster, and Lacey Spagnula. Bottom Row, left to right are: Marcelle Bleau, Kaitlyn Oleksak, Alicia Taylor, and Instructor Eva White. (Photo submitted)

JOHNSTOWN — The Fulton Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare is being proactive when it comes to the local and nationwide nursing shortages.

The skilled nursing facility at 847 County Highway 122 in the town of Johnstown is meeting the shortage head on, with a new certified nursing assistant, or CNA class of its own.

Jeffrey Jacomowitz, public relations director for Bronx-based parent firm Centers Health Care, said that the Fulton County facility the past several weeks offered a free, on-site “first of its kind” opportunity for those wishing to become a certified nursing assistant. Students loans are not a problem

He said the Fulton Center program is about finding “homegrown” nursing staff within the community — a main reason for the CNA class.

Jacomowitz said Fulton Center has since May been offering a free new “classroom” eight-week program as a means to attract new and more qualified CNAs, not only for Centers’ facilities, but for facilities throughout the Capital and Adirondack region.

Utilizing a dummy, RN Eva White instructs student Lacy Spagnuola at the Fulton Center fo Rehabilitation and Healthcare's free certified nursing assistant course Thursday at the facility. Seven students were graduated from the program this week. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

The Fulton Center’s program concluded Thursday, culminating in a graduation ceremony. Seven new CNA graduates have agreed to work at the center for one year.

Center Administrator Leonard Hersh said it took awhile to get his facility’s program established through the state Department of Health. But he said it was well worth it.

“We’ve got a good crew,” Hersh stated. “We’re very excited.”

Registered nurse Eva White was the program instructor, with RN Jill Kaczor as CNA program coordinator. Graduating Thursday from the CNA program were: Brittany Arkazana, Darcy Bleau, Tessa Richardson, Lacy Spagnuola, Alicia Taylor, Catherine Millington and Erika Foster.

“Its always been a dream of mine to be a CNA and work in the health care field,” said Spagnuola, 33.

Fulton Center CNA student Darcy Bleau, right, assists "patient" and fellow CNA student Lacy Spagnuola to walk with a gait belt during class Thursday at the center. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

Bleau said she was a grant writer for non-profit agencies and worked in Baltimore when she got the bug to work in healthcare.

“I learned about the nursing crisis at a previous job,” she said.

She has experience helping people with a previous job she did at Lexington Center, she said.

It is not unprecedented for nursing facilities to train their own staff, but usually at some cost. Fulton-Montgomery Community College has nursing courses. Attending a course like this can cost as much as $1,700. But students who signed up for the Fulton Center program paid nothing, Jacomowitz noted.

“Fulton Center and Centers Health Care will pay for them to continue their career as licensed practical nurses and then registered nurses so to create a career path that will keep them in the medical profession,” Jacomowitz said. “The students have been offered assistant jobs during this eight-week class and they have been asked to work at one of the Centers nursing homes after graduation … Of course they need to pass that state exam, then they will have a job waiting for them.”

Jacomowitz stated that “with this innovative and proactive new CNA training program, we are taking another positive step forward.”

The Centers official said both a Fulton Center RN and the director of nursing headed the class and provide the course oversight.

“This is still a very new program, as they plan on offering many more training sessions in the future,” Jacomowitz said.

Hirsch said the success of this program has prompted a second, new course. Interested applicants should stop by the facility to file an application, he said

“We’re accepting applicants for our next class,” he said. “I’m very happy to reinvest back into this community.”

Hirsch, an Oppenheim resident, said the Fulton Center program is akin to “neighbors helping find neighbors.”

He said no one person at Centers Health Care came up with the idea to train CNAs for free to help stem the nursing shortage.

“This is something everyone was thinking about all at the same time,” the center administrator said.

According to the American Association of College & Nursing, the United States is projected to experience a shortage of registered nurses expected to intensify as Baby Boomers age and the need for health care grows. Additionally, 25 percent of RNs working today are expected to retire, and there is a lack of nursing faculties to train more qualified nurses. The nursing shortage in the United States is expected to be particularly severe between 2020 and 2030.

Compounding the problem is the fact that nursing schools across the country are struggling to expand capacity to meet the rising demand for care given the national move toward healthcare reform.

World Health Statistics Report says there are approximately 29 million nurses and midwives in the world, with 3.9 million of those individuals in the United States. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 1.1 million additional nurses are needed to avoid a further shortage.

Fulton County Public Health Director Laurel Headwell said it is “phenomenal” that Fulton Center now offers the free nursing program. She said her county government department sees the shortage.

“It definitely is a problem locally,” she said. “We see it every day here in public health.”

Headwell said there can be a high turnover in the nursing profession, as people are looking for better hours, better wages and different settings. But she said Fulton County is blessed with several wonderful healthcare settings for people to work.

“We have a lot more to offer in our community than ever before,” Headwell said.

During Thursday’s last day of the CNA class, students acted as each other’s “model” patients, going through scenarios they will soon have to utilize in the real world on the floor.

Instructor White said that during the training, students were allowed to assist the center CNAs, but not with direct care. Some of the duties included getting linen for the patients.

“They can sit and talk to the residents,” she said.

Jacomowitz said another Centers facility has already started a similar program in Warren County. He said the Warren Center in Queensbury in 2018 — in conjunction with the state Department of Health – began its own certified class inhouse. Students took the class, passed the state exam, and then graduated right at the facility.

Centers Health Care took a “different approach” to produce more qualified CNAs, so the company approached the state Department of Health and the state Department of Education last year and received approval to develop and run a CNA training course, Jacomowitz said.

“Working as a CNA is difficult work but it is also an extremely important and gratifying job,” Jacomowitz said.

A CNA’s duties may include: assessing the physical conditions of patients to aid in diagnosis and treatment, operating medical equipment; applying bandages, dressings, or splints; and assisting doctors and nurses during medical procedures. Also, CNAs have daily contact with patients, gather vital information about patients’ conditions and fulfill residents’ basic quality-of-life needs.

“With the shortage of qualified candidates, and a need that keeps expanding, qualifying as a CNA is a near-guarantee of employment for many years to come,” Jacomowitz said. “In addition, once you are employed as a CNA, the job can make a terrific first step on a ladder that leads to other positions in health care. It is, in short, an exciting, crucial, sometimes challenging job that can lead to a rewarding professional career.”

The New York State Nurses Association says “safe staffing” is the key to having nursing staffs take on too many patients. When registered nurse staffing is increased by only 5 percent, the number of adverse events, including pressure ulcers, catheter-associated urinary tract infections, hospital acquired injuries, air embolism, blood incompatibilities, vascular catheter associated infections and mediastinitis following coronary bypass graft, are reduced by 15.8 percent, the association says.

Health care officials say nursing has also become a less attractive job to some. According to a survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, over the last five years, the number of graduates from nursing programs declined by an average of 1,030 students each year. Many are deterred because nursing can be dirty, intense, demanding work — far different from a job in an office — in a health care setting where tension can be prevalent.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.