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Facing critical shortage, Minnesota to cover tuition for certified nursing assistants

The Walz administration on Monday, Dec. 6, set a Jan. 31 target to train and deploy 1,000 new certified nursing assistants.

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ST. PAUL — Walz administration officials on Monday, Dec. 6, announced they would use $3.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to pay tuition and fees for Minnesota students working to become certified nursing assistants.

State health and education officials set a goal to bring 1,000 new certified nursing assistants into the workforce before Jan. 31 to help quell a caregiver shortage impacting the state's long-term care facilities. More than 70% of nursing homes report that they can't admit new residents due to insufficient staffing.

That shortage has also caused a bottleneck in Minnesota hospitals since they can't discharge patients to the facilities. In an effort to ease the strain on hospitals and care facilities, federal medics have deployed to Minnesota, the state has opened alternative care sites and 400 National Guard members trained to relieve caregivers in nursing homes.

Gov. Tim Walz in a news release Monday said the state would cover the cost of tuition, fees, study materials and other expenses of those training to become certified nursing assistants. And 10 high schools will receive funding to train students to become nursing assistants.

“Our long-term care facilities are relying on a new generation of certified nursing assistants to provide quality care to their patients," Walz said. "By working with communities, colleges, and care providers around Minnesota, we will recruit and train these new CNAs and ensure we have the staff we need in long-term care."

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And state leaders put out a call for Minnesotans interested in obtaining the nursing certifications to apply.
“Our college campuses stand at the ready to offer training, but now we need Minnesotans to answer the call," Minnesota Office of Higher Education Commissioner Dennis Olson said. "If you are about to graduate high school, a current college student, or someone looking for a career change, I hope you will consider pursuing a career as a certified nursing assistant. Together, we can improve the health and wellness of our great state.”

Long-term care organization leaders on Monday said the recruitment effort would help build up a qualified nursing workforce in Minnesota's senior housing communities. And that could ensure quality care for residents.

“Nursing assistants are the foundation of any senior care environment, and it is imperative, for both public health and community well-being, that we are training an adequate number of individuals to serve our seniors in places they call home," said Patti Cullen, president and CEO of Care Providers of Minnesota. "This is an essential starting point, and we hope to continue to work together to increase starting wages and benefits to entice more Minnesotans into this valued profession.”

State health officials on Monday also announced that they would open a fourth alternative care location in Hastings to free up hospital bed space in the Twin Cities. Benedictine Living Community-Regina in Hastings is set to become a care site for up to 17 patients coming out of emergency or intensive care settings.

And the first three teams of National Guard members trained as certified nursing assistants were sent out to North Ridge Health and Rehab in New Hope, Mille Lacs Health System Long Term Care in Onamia and PioneerCare in Fergus Falls to relieve caregiving staff there. They are set to begin work on Tuesday, Dec. 7.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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