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Nearly 1,300 nursing assistants recruited through Minnesota's free tuition program

The state set a goal to bring on 1,000 new certified nursing assistants by Jan. 31 and spent $3.4 million to help them train and become certified as the state faced widespread caregiver shortages.

Gov. Tim Walz - St. Paul College
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday, March 29, 2022, speaks with students, faculty and reporters at St. Paul College about state efforts to recruit certified nursing assistants with free tuition and study materials.
Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — Nearly 1,300 certified nursing assistants have signed on and begun training under a Minnesota program aimed at building up the state's pipeline of caregivers.

Gov. Tim Walz and Higher Education Commission Dennis Olson on Tuesday, March 29, announced that the state exceeded its goal of bringing on 1,000 news CNAs in an effort to relieve Minnesota National Guard members.

At the height of demand for medical and long-term care services late last year, the state called in federal reinforcements to help strained hospitals. And it set up a rapid caregiver training system to prepare National Guard members to fill in at short-staffed care centers.

State leaders at the time also called on Minnesotans to train as certified nursing assistants to fill gaps in Minnesota's health care workforce. And they offered to foot the bill for tuition, books and other equipment they'd need using $3.4 million in federal COVID-19 response funds.

"People stepped up in this effort and they really want to have a career where they can make a difference — a difference in their communities, a difference for their families, more importantly, to answer the call on behalf of the state," Olson told students, faculty and reporters during a news conference at St. Paul College. "Minnesotans stepped up in a big way there."


Now, the nearly 400 National Guard members have been deactivated and newly-trained caregivers have taken their places. To date, 1,278 enrolled in the free courses offered through the state or took CNA training through their high schools, Walz and Olson announced Tuesday.

Olson said the state missed its "highly aggressive goal" of getting 1,000 CNAs trained and certified by Jan. 31 because it took time for the state colleges and universities to get rapid training protocols in place. Some recruits are still in training programs, he said, and additional funds are available for Minnesotans that would still like to pursue care giving.

Despite the slight lag to meet the goal, the state stands better prepared to face the next wave of the pandemic or the transition to the endemic phase of COVID-19, Walz said.

"When we see another surge, this issue of in the long term care facilities will not be the same crisis situation that we saw. And that gives us a hand up," Walz said. "So this is a great success story."

Linda Meyer, a registered nurse and nursing assistant instructor at St. Paul College, said she was initially floored when the state came to the Minnesota Colleges and Universities system and asked for help training up 1,000 new CNAs in a month.

"I'm just thankful that we've been able to do a piece of this and be able to train and to make it easier for those that are out there," Meyer said, noting that in her 30-year career there were several occasions where there weren't enough caregivers to meet the needs of residents.

The training program is set to continue and the leaders said they hoped it could be scaled up to meet the need for CNAs around the state. Walz in a supplemental budget proposal asked for $6.7 million a year to continue the program and increase the goal to recruit 3,000 new CNAs annually.

Several incumbent state legislators, particularly in the Senate, edged out competitors with more extreme views on COVID-19, election security and more.

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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