Ariana Graybill stands with Marianne Field and Joanne McMahon at Tuesday’s ceremony. John Terhune / The Times Record

Mt. Ararat junior Ariana Graybill knows the impact a certified nursing assistant can have. She remembers visiting her great-grandfather in a long-term care facility and feeling frustrated at the inattentive care he sometimes received.

“It’s huge work,” she said. “I just wanted to be that CNA that made a change.”

On Tuesday, Graybill and 18 classmates at Region 10 Technical High School in Brunswick celebrated the completion of the school’s CNA program with a pinning ceremony. The group’s members, each of whom took and passed the Maine State Certified Nursing Assistant Exam earlier this month, have transformed from nervous high school students to highly sought-after professionals, according to program instructor Joanne McMahon.

“It is just the coolest thing to see where they are and what they’ve done with themselves,” McMahon said. “Watching them take care of their residents is just amazing.”

The program’s students split time between Region 10 in Brunswick and their home schools of Mt. Ararat, Freeport, Brunswick and Harpswell Coastal Academy, McMahon said. They devote part of each day to classroom instruction, lab work or clinical shifts at Horizons Living & Rehabilitation Center or Mid Coast Senior Health Center.

“Coming into the Region 10 program, there’s definitely that little bit of nervousness,” said Andrew Miller, a junior from Freeport. “You know at the end of the year you’re going to have your final exam that determines if you get your license or not.”


Andrew Miller receives his CNA pin from Marianne Field, who helps supervise the program. John Terhune / The Times Record

But as the students practice feeding, bathing and caring for their patients, they quickly develop confidence in their new skills, Miller said. While other Certified Nursing Assistant programs end after a few months, Region 10’s yearlong course allows McMahon to spend extra time on every subject.

“(McMahon) prepares you for everything you could possibly go through in this class and in the CNA field,” Graybill said. “She’s just a really good teacher, and I think that’s what makes this program so much more special than others.”

Though the Maine Board of Nursing recently reduced the required clinical training time for CNA students from 70 to 40 hours, McMahon said she pushes her students to meet the old standards.

This makes them especially attractive candidates to employers, who would otherwise have to spend time training new hires, said Carrie Pelletier, senior director of nursing at Mid Coast Senior Health.

“I’m definitely thankful that (Region 10) has continued with the maximum clinical hours that they can do,” said Pelletier, who called the certified nursing assistant role “imperative” to the health care system. “They kind of have the upper hand because they have had enough time where they really learn that time management skill, where in 40 hours you’re just learning the real basics.”

Ariana Graybill, right, practices her feeding skills with classmate Mary Wheeler in October 2021. Contributed / Joanne McMahon

That has put McMahon’s students in the pole position for jobs in an industry that’s already desperate for workers.


According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 19,256 active CNAs are licensed to work in Maine.

While that number is growing, it’s still far short of the target for many care centers, according to Pelletier. Mid Coast Senior Health has recently turned to expensive travel CNAs from out of state because the center has only managed to fill 40% of its available positions with permanent staff, she said.

Maine’s aging population, paired with cracks in the economy revealed by the pandemic, have made the nursing assistant course and other technical education programs a particularly important key to the state’s future, said Region 10 Superintendent and Director Paul Perzanoski.

“Here in Maine, we have a significant shortage of young folks to be able to take over for the folks that are getting to the point where they’re close to retirement,” he said. “It’s a very important pipeline that needs to be needs to be filled, especially in the next10 to 20 years.”

Though they won’t graduate high school for another year, Graybill and Miller are already joining their classmates in filling that pipeline. Both have part-time jobs as CNAs and plan on supporting themselves through community college as they pursue careers in health care.

“Everybody wants the CNAs,” McMahon said. “We’re getting calls from all kinds of different facilities asking if we have anybody who wants a job. They’re in the driver’s seat.”

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