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Wisconsin Partnership Could Transform Nursing Assistant Field

April 1, 2019

Wisconsin nursing homes are facing a crisis: according to the most recent analysis available, nursing assistant certifications fell by 24 percent from 2012 to 2015, and employers were unable to fill one in seven open nursing assistant positions in 2015. Without intervention, these challenges will intensify in the decade ahead (from 2016 to 2026), as employers attempt to fill nearly 40,000 nursing assistant job openings that will be created by workforce turnover and increased demand for care.

However, long-term care leaders in Wisconsin are taking action to strengthen the pipeline and stabilize the nursing assistant workforce, setting an example for other states. Through the WisCaregiver Careers program, the state aims to recruit thousands of new nursing assistants and incentivize them to remain in the field, thus improving the quality and continuity of care for nursing home residents.

A Multidimensional Strategy

WisCaregiver Careers is a partnership between state agencies and provider associations, made possible by $2.3 million in federal dollars over 2018 and 2019, including Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) funding

WisCaregiver Careers participants follow a step-by-step process to become nursing assistants. First, they identify and enroll in a training course through a web-based locator. (The program funds training and testing for 3,000 new nursing assistants through nearly every technical college in the state, and at numerous private and facility-based training sites.)

Next, trained workers can use the WisCaregiver Careers to find employment with a participating nursing home. Among the state’s 390 nursing homes, 303 participate in the program. These employers have committed to paying a $500 bonus to every WisCaregiver Careers nursing assistant who stays on the job for at least six months. To support employers, the state hosts periodic educational webinars on nursing home staff recruitment and retention.

To achieve the ambitious goal of certifying 3,000 new nursing assistants over two years, WisCaregiver Careers is also promoting nursing assistant jobs to potential program participants through a multi-media communications campaign. One component of the campaign is a series of videos featuring current and former nursing assistants who describe both the intrinsic rewards and extrinsic benefits of the job. The videos highlight nursing assistants from diverse backgrounds, including men, who constitute just seven percent of the nursing assistant workforce in Wisconsin—with the aim of expanding the labor pool for nursing home jobs.

One Year Later, Strong Outcomes

Since registration opened in March 2018, 1,885 people have enrolled in the WisCaregiver Careers program and nearly 1,275 have completed the training, and 64 of those workers have received their six-month retention bonus.

Kevin Coughlin, one of the program administrators, said of the program: “People see this as a wonderful opportunity, and they’re excited about their new careers.” According to Coughlin, training programs have seen a marked increase in enrollment, whereas prior to the launch of the WisCaregiver Careers program, classes were frequently canceled due to low numbers.

To understand the impact of the WisCaregiver Careers program, the state has partnered with the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh to conduct a formal evaluation. Evaluators will survey employers, training programs, and program participants, including those who found employment as nursing assistants and those who left the program before completion. Findings from the evaluation—paired with the program’s administrative data and stories from the field—will inform decisions about the program’s future after the current funding runs out at the end of this year.

Even while the evaluation results are pending, widespread interest in WisCaregiver Careers among job seekers, trainers, and employers indicates the broad appeal of a well-structured pathway into nursing assistant jobs. Further, the strong enrollment numbers have piqued the interest of other states. Wisconsin state officials have advised seven other states about requesting funding through the CMP program for a similar initiative: California, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Texas.


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