Certified Nursing Assistant students at Region 10 Technical High School. Contributed photo

BRUNSWICK — Normally students in the nursing assistant program at Region 10 Technical High School would be performing clinical practice in the real world.

They would be working with patients and professionals up to three days a week at the Horizons Living and Rehabilitation Center or Mid Coast Senior Health Center, said junior Elizabeth Lamoreau of Bowdoinham. That training is done alongside other certified nursing assistants and licensed nurses while under the supervision of her instructor, Joane McMahon, a registered nurse.

Due to safety precautions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, that’s no longer the case.

“Now, being home and in this quarantine, we have to somehow get these hours in without doing hands-on learning with our patients,” said Lamoreau said, a certified volunteer EMT for the Bowdoinham Fire Department, who plans to work as a nursing assistant as a stepping stone to become a registered nurse at a neonatal intensive care unit.

Lamoreau and other students are worried about finishing their on-the-job training, and how they can take their competency exams — originally scheduled for May — to become certified.

Students haven’t been in school since March 16 and have been learning remotely in online classrooms.

Lamoreau and her 10 classmates have performed about 50 out of 70 hours of clinical work required for certification. They hoped the Maine Board of Nursing would waive the remaining hours.

Instead, last week the nursing board adopted an emergency 90-day rule for nursing assistant students who have completed all their classwork and at least 45 hours of supervised clinical practice.

That allows those students to earn up to 25 hours of supervised clinical experience as paid employees of medical facilities. The students must be supervised by a clinical instructor or a registered professional nurse on staff at the facility.

“I don’t feel that would be something I would be comfortable with,” Lamoreau said. “I think my instructor is doing a great job with video calls and with virtual tests. I’d feel better with my skills if I had that hands-on contact with patients.”

It’s a plan that could be mutually beneficial to CNA students and medical facilities like HillHouse Assisted Living in Bath, which faced a worker shortage even before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

The HillHouse is accustomed to hiring workers without experience and training them, according to Mary Lou Ciolfi, the acting administrator.

Since coronavirus was first documented in Maine, many workers left or took time off, including some who are at higher risk or who have family members at high risk if exposed to the virus. Others have left because they don’t have childcare. The assisted living facility hasn’t had any confirmed cases among the 37 residents and approximately 85 staff.

“We’re that much more pressed to bring on new faces and train them,” said Ciolfi.

Ciolfi declined to say, specifically, how many nurses HillHouse is short.

McMahon questions if parents will allow their children to work in medical facilities during a pandemic. It’s a high risk situation Lamoreau said she isn’t comfortable working in with her current skill level.

“I think that’s a lot of unneeded stress,” she said. “I think it’s defiantly better to have a more standard type of CNA work we are used to seeing and being able to work alongside our nurses in more normal circumstances.”

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