BATH — A Bath Tech instructor’s partnership with a local senior center has given her students access to clinical hours, and the center the help it needs filling the ranks of certified nursing assistants.

Bath Tech CNA students Chelsea Hinds, standing, and Taylor Rumery practice taking blood pressure. The school’s CNA students are getting extra clinical hours through a partnership with Mid Coast Senior Health Center. Contributed / Lindsey Goudreau

Sue Beauregard, a registered nurse who teaches the school’s CNA Health Science program to junior and senior high school students, said a partnership with Mid Coast Senior Health Center is allowing her certified nursing assistant (CNA) students to complete their all-important clinical hours. The school’s nine students began working at the center through the program last fall.

Carrie Pelletier, senior director of nursing at Mid Coast Senior Health Center, said this week that the program has benefited the center, too. Right now, she said, the center serves 40 patients, and the extra help has been more than welcome.

“With COVID, families can’t come to visit, so they’re an extra staff member,” she said.

Pelletier said the CNA field is hurting right now. A search on MaineHealth’s website on Wednesday showed 183 open CNA positions alone. Pelletier said she has about 45 CNAs on staff right now, but she still has nine open full-time positions she wants to fill.

“The field is just so depleted,” she said. “We need as many CNAs as we can get.”

Beauregard said CNA students require 70 hours to get their certification, and by far the easiest way to do it is through practical experience. She said her students have worked in the past at Winship Green Center for Health & Rehabilitation, Avita and HillHouse Assisted Living, but due to the pandemic, they weren’t able to go back there for the current program, which started in fall 2020.

Beauregard said it’s possible for the students to get their hours in other ways, but that usually involves extra classes at Bath Tech or a local hospital, and those can cost the students as much as $1,000.

“There are opportunities, but it costs money,” she said. “This is completely free for the students.”

Better than that, it’s turning out to be a smart career move for Kailah Malcolm of Brunswick, a student in the program. She said she’s doing so well that the center has offered her a job there full time as soon as she can get certified.

The work, Malcolm said, involves basic care, with simple tasks such as helping the patients get dressed, feeding them and making sure they take their medication. There are also basic medical tasks involved such as taking blood pressure.

“It’s a lot of fun for me,” she said.

Malcolm said she started the program in September. The experience showed her what the job will be like once she gets her certification.

“It’s basically the same things,” she said.

The clinical experience, Pelletier said, helps teach the students to open up, which is critical when dealing with the patients.

“They all came in really shy and quiet,” she said. “I can see their confidence has improved.”

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