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Career Center, Porter Hospital partner to train more nurses

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January 7, 2008

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — The Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center (PHCC) is partnering with Porter Medical Center on new course that will offer area students a prime entrée into the health care industry.

Now in its first year, PHCC’s “Allied Health Program” is giving students access to classroom training and hands-on experience in a hospital setting, with the potential of earning Licensed Nurse Assistant (LNA) certification. That LNA status will permit students to graduate directly to jobs at Helen Porter Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, among other places, or continue their studies in the medical field.

Career Center officials have been discussing establishing a health care curriculum for at least the past six years, according to PHCC Director Lynn Coale. But those six years have also seen a decline in district enrollment in the regional vocational/technical high school, meaning the center has had to be more careful than ever about maintaining existing programs — let alone starting new ones. The PHCC’s proposed 2008-2009 budget envisions 1.5 fewer teachers in response to dwindling student numbers.

Still, PHCC board members agreed that launching an Allied Health Program was a safe bet.

“This is based on an incredible need in the health career field and the lack of a highly skilled workforce,” Coale said. “At the same time, we are confronted with decreasing enrollment at the high school and the need to revise, and in reality decrease, the programs we are offering.”

The PHCC board hired Janice Whitaker, a registered nurse and local resident with a background in health education, to develop and implement the new curriculum this year.

Whitaker formed a an advisory council to help shape the Allied Health Program. The list of 23 invited council members includes Porter Medical Center President James Daily; Mount Abraham Union High School nurse Wanda Bouvier; pediatrician Dr. Breena Holmes; and Middlebury Union High School athletic trainer Sarah Johnstone.

With the council’s advice and great support from Porter Hospital, Whitaker put together a health curriculum with two levels. “Level one” features approximately 80 hours of studies, 30 hours of which will be supervised clinical training at Helen Porter nursing home. Students who successfully complete level one will be able to take the requisite test to earn LNA certification, according to Whitaker.

“Level two,” still being developed for its debut next fall, will allow students to diversify their experience in health care to help them decide which specific discipline they may want to pursue — such as podiatry, anesthesiology or radiology.

Whitaker is pursuing an arrangement with the Community College of Vermont through which PHCC’s Allied Health Program students could take two undergraduate courses — one in medical terminology, the other in human biology. Students could earn three college credits for each course.

Porter’s contributions to the program will be invaluable, according to Coale. Plans call for Helen Porter nursing home to provide equipment and supplies; provide two “cooperative education” placements for students; and make available guest speakers.

Porter has also agreed to help fund the program during its first three years.

The nursing home recently received a “Workforce Education and Training Fund” grant from the Vermont Department of Labor to support three local courses to train licensed nurse assistants. The $14,000 grant will allow Helen Porter to offer three courses over the next 12 months and train at least 18-24 local individuals as LNAs in hopes that many of these students will remain in Middlebury and fill positions currently available at Helen Porter nursing home.

“We anticipate offering employment to each of the individuals who successfully completes this training,” said nursing home administrator Neil Gruber. According to Gruber, the starting wages for these jobs, including benefits, will range from $13.59 to $16.51 per hour.

Helen Porter nursing home will work closely with the PHCC in Middlebury to recruit local students for this new educational opportunity.

There are currently six students enrolled in the first year of the Allied Health Program. Coale said the course has been drawing a lot of interest from sophomores who may sign on for the fall.

The career center has applied to Vermont Nursing Board approval of the program. Whitaker is very optimistic the program will pass muster.

Porter President Daily said the PHCC’s new program could become an important resource for the hospital to tap for future employees.

“We have openings today for entry-level clinical positions that pay $40,000 to $50,000 per year, but these positions are difficult to fill in today’s labor market, and we feel that it is both important for Porter — and a real opportunity for local students — to partner with the Hannaford Career Center and take an active role in making something happen,” Daily said.

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