Roughly 900 Wisconsinites take up expedited emergency nurse aide training programs during pandemic

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(WSAW) -- Long before the pandemic hit Wisconsin, there were staffing shortages in the medical field, specifically in long-term care. In fact, a collaborative report released this year shows almost a quarter of caregiver positions were open.

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The federal government issued some blanket waivers for parts of the medical field to address the needs of the pandemic quickly but states needed to do their own leg work too.

In the governor's Emergency Order 21, it loosened some rules for emergency nurse aide training programs, including allowing people to get on-the-job training more quickly. In April, the legislature also approved a shortened nurse aide training requirement of 75 hours, lining up with the minimum requirement by the federal government. The state previously required 120 hours of nurse aide training. The 75 hour reduction failed to pass twice over the past year.

Now, the state is going through the administrative rulemaking process to continue some of the emergency nurse aide training program changes.

"We've been looking at, with a number of agencies, in terms of what can we do through the administrative rulemaking process to provide flexibilities and get more doctors and nurses and others back into the profession to help deal with the pandemic," Ryan Nilsestuen, the governor's counsel, said during the Department of Health Services media call Thursday.

Joey Petti, the executive director of WI Director of Nursing Council, an organization that provides education and support to long-term care professionals, said roughly 900 individuals have now gone through that shortened training program around the state. She explained many of these individuals were already in health care training programs of some sort and others did not have the time to complete their certification test because of their full-time work, or because they did not have enough money to finish out the certification. She said the pandemic's impact on businesses has allowed those who were occupied with those jobs to finish their training.

"Part of our opinion about the amount of training that Wisconsin has required prior to the emergency was that the training was generically blanketed for what people presumed was a skill set nursing assistants required," she said, "rather than trusting the employer to assure they had the right skill set to care for the residents in their particular building."

She explained each long-term care facility has specific needs that do not necessarily match the needs in other facilities. She said the quality of the training is what is most important, which is why WI Director of Nursing Council has pushed for fewer mandatory hours and more on-the-job training requirements; that way, nurse aides can be trained for a facility's specific care and patient needs.

"Simply because the nature of each one of our buildings is so dynamic and now with COVID, again, we are seeing facilities that are taking COVID-positive patients and caring for those individuals and we're also seeing facilities who (sic) have yet to see their first COVID case," she said.

Over the past year, some concerns have been raised about shortening the requirements and the impact on overall experience it would have. Quality CNA Training owner and director, Paulene Kipke said in March last year when the change was first proposed, "I don't want our students leaving here with just the knowledge needed to test, I want them to leave here with all of the knowledge needed to do this job."

Pettis said she believes the concerns raised are unfounded and she has not heard of any issues with people who have trained in the shortened program. She believes the emergency issuance of this will, in fact, show that quality training can be done in a shorter time.

NewsChannel 7 reached out to numerous medical providers around north central Wisconsin, many of which did not get back with answers about if they participated in the program or their stance on the change. Marshfield Clinic, however, said it did not participate in the emergency program waiver and has a different plan in place should a surge in COVID-19 cases take place. Other area nursing homes said they were comfortably staffed currently, but did apply for the waiver just in case.