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Local Program Trains Caregivers for Fastest Growing Profession


With the graying of America's population, the demand for caregivers has never been higher. Federal officials estimate over the next decade, professionally trained caregivers will be among the nation's fastest growing professions. KPBS Health Reporter Kenny Goldberg has a profile of one local program that trains people to enter the business as certified nursing assistants.

The Golden Care Academy sits in a storefront in San Diego's Golden Hill neighborhood.

Inside, instructor La Verne Minns starts her new students off with a therapeutic moment.

Minns: We're going to start with Red Cross backrubs. Red Cross backrubs start from the waist, a nice long stroke up, make sure you massage those knots out of the shoulders. So there's a back in front of you, get going.

To be sure, giving backrubs isn't on the job description for certified nursing assistants. Still, over the next 12 weeks, these students will learn how to touch patients in a number of specific ways.

Minns says to get certified by the state, students will have to master 40 different skills. All of them require close contact with patients. And that can be challenging.

Minns: There are a lot of people, when you talk about the new recruits, that have never touched another person, except maybe husband, wife, family members. When you are changing somebody, or assisting somebody with toileting, that's pretty intimate. And you have to know how to do that, and to do that with skill, and get over what your fears are.

Certified nursing assistants bathe patients. They shave them, feed them, even help them go to the bathroom. And for those intimate and personal services, the starting wage can be as low as $8 an hour.

CNAs work in hospitals and nursing homes. They're often the primary caregiver in home settings.     

Jennifer Williamson is the executive director of Golden Care Academy. She says CNAs are entry-level positions, but they're by no means unimportant.

Williamson: They are really the hands-on, front line people that are providing care. And they're working really, really hard. They're the ones that I think, essentially, are the most responsible for keeping people healthy and happy in a care environment.

There are a host of CNA programs throughout San Diego County, including ones at Miracosta and Southwestern College.

CNA students are pretty diverse. Some are just out of high school. Others have already raised a family, and are looking to start a career in the healthcare industry.         

Many CNAs see the position as a first step towards becoming a licensed vocational nurse, or an RN.   

CNA Derrick Guerra works at Villa Coronado, a long-term care facility in Coronado. Guerra's a recent graduate of the Golden Care Academy. He's been a working CNA for just a couple of months. He eventually wants become an R-N.

The 37-year-old says right now, he has his hands full caring for Villa Coronado patients.

Guerra: We change them, we get them dressed in the morning, we feed them, it's complete care. So, like giving them showers, wheeling them around like the unit, to get out and about, and interact with the other people.

Guerra says the patients seem to appreciate what he does.                  

Guerra: Some of them will tell you, some of them will, it's just a little like touch or just a little look or a wink or something like that. They all have different ways of showing it, but yeah definitely, they're happy for what we provide here.

As the population of older Americans continues to increase, more and more people will need trained caregivers like Guerra. Yet this country faces a shortage of nurses at all skill levels.

The Golden Care Academy graduates around 105 CNAs every year. Executive director Jennifer Williamson knows that's just a tiny fraction of what's needed.

Williamson: If we don't all get on board with the fact that we have to train literally millions more nurses over the next ten years, everyone's care is going to suffer.

But what about now? Statewide, it's believed there are more than ten-thousand open positions for certified nursing assistants.

Kenny Goldberg, KPBS News.

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