WESTBROOK — Rasha Burkeba, a certified nursing assistant at Avita of Stroudwater in Westbrook, is on the front line in the fight to prevent the coronavirus from making an appearance at the assisted living facility.

She’s strictly following Avita’s pandemic protocols, wearing a mask and, especially, washing her hands frequently.

“I’m doing my part to responding to this health crisis by keeping wash my hand a lot … each time I touch a resident or I touch the door of my facility,” she said.

Burkeba, who came to the U.S. in 2013 from Iraq, is one of the more than 500 students who have been trained in health care professions through Portland Adult Education in the past three years. Most of those students took part in the certified nursing program, as Burkeba did, graduating in May 2019.

The majority of the students are now working at hospitals and other health care facilities as CNAs, personal support specialists, direct support professionals and in housekeeping, according to Elizabeth Love, PAE’s assistant director.

Director Anita St. Onge said these former students are the “unsung heroes” who are cleaning and disinfecting patients’ rooms, assisting nurses and doctors with medical tasks and caring for elderly people in their homes.


“Hundreds of students have come through our doors to become (certified nursing assistants) in the past few years, many of whom are immigrants who have healthcare backgrounds, and others were born and raised in Maine and have a calling to help others,” Love said.

St. Onge said Portland Adult Education offers several classes and programs to help people transition into the medical field, including Bridge to Healthcare and the certified nursing assistant programs. A Certified Residential Medication Aide program was supposed to be launched this spring but has been postponed.

Maine Medical Center and other medical facilities in the area have hired many of the new Portland Adult Education’s new CNAs.

“It’s a great program because it accelerates these students along in their education and gives them a clear path in terms of a destination,” said John Porter, Maine Health’s associate vice president for system communications and public affairs.

Yalem Aregawi who worked as a neonatal intensive care unit nurse in Ethiopia before moving to the United States close to four years ago, has been working as a certified nursing assistant at Maine Medical Center. Working there during the coronavirus pandemic, she said has been stressful.

“As a mom of three small children and 35 weeks pregnant, working as a (certified nursing assistant) during this time is scary,” she said, is


Aregawi is trying to protect herself and her family as best she can.

“I can’t give a hug  to my babies when I get home from work like before because I have to protect them,” she said.

Burkeba is taking all necessary precautions to make sure she is staying healthy and maintaining a healthy environment for Avita residents, she said. These precautions won’t just help her and the residents, but also her future child as Burkeba is in the third trimester of her pregnancy.

“We are doing all that to keep our residents free of the disease,” she said.

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