Academy helps meet ‘overwhelming’ demand for caregivers


FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (AP) – From the outside, the event looked like an open house and community appreciation, a celebration of the Career Nursing Academy moving to a much larger space in a Locust shopping center Grove.

But inside, events at the Orange County facility are indicative of what is happening in the region and the country. There is a desperate need for caregivers and caregivers, both for the elderly who wish to stay in their homes, as well as for those whose physical needs or memory problems have necessitated a move to a facility.

And Zoila Ortega, nurse, medical teacher and health professional for over 50 years, created the academy to fill this void. She started the training center in 2015 after coming out of retirement for the third time, joking that the old nurses don’t stop working, they die.

But on a more serious note, Ortega took care of her mother, and as the older woman’s dementia increased, her English decreased. Ortega, who is Cuban, sought out a certified health care aide who could help him.


“There was no Spanish speaking NAC to be found,” said Ortega, who is 73.

So Ortega, who had created the Nursing Assistant program at Germanna Community College – and was an assistant professor in the nursing department there – created the Career Nursing Academy. Because she speaks three languages ​​- English, Spanish and French – she encourages more those who are not English speakers, as well as students who may not have had the opportunity to attend training.

On a recent Saturday, Ortega and his instructors hosted a community open house and career fair at their academy to try and match students with potential employers.

“The demand is overwhelming,” Ortega said. “All the nursing homes are scrambling for the NACs to work, and then the people who want to stay home – and there are a significant number of them who want to be home but need help – they knock on. our doors. “

Demand is the main reason the academy moved last month from its old location next to the Locust Grove post office to a space 2.5 times the size, near State Route 20 in the mall with the Exxon gas station. The training center is open six days a week and when there are more students than its three classes at the NAC can accommodate, overflowing evening classes are scheduled. This has happened twice this summer, Ortega said.

The academy also offers courses for nursing aides and nursing aides and the basics of caregiving.

Many students, who have spoken to potential employers and had residents checked their blood pressure for free, are interested in becoming caregivers for the same reason Ortega started the academy.

They are motivated by personal experiences.

Aleksa Shoemaker helped her grandmother take care of her grandfather, who had a feeding tube, every time she visited him.

“It kind of inspired me to work with people in need and got me where I am today,” she said, adding that she would have no trouble. to find a job. “The medical field is a constant recruiting environment, so many people here are in need. It is a job in high demand.

Bailey Clements had planned to become a registered nurse and was in college last year when the pandemic began. But as classes continued she “wanted to be active” working with patients, so she switched to the CNA class. Like her classmate Mikeesha Henderson, she would like to start as a home worker, evolve in a nursing home and eventually become a registered nurse and work in a hospital.

Helanna Shaw said her “heart grew” after she had her daughter, Kaia, two years ago.

“I realized that everyone is someone’s child and that’s honestly why I think being a CNA is such a great job. You have to take care of people and take care of them like family, ”said Shaw, who also works nights as a bartender and applies some of the same thought processes to both fields. “Everyone is a person. You don’t know what they’re going through and you don’t know their stories.

The need for caregivers was pressing long before COVID-19 arrived, said Sheila Mathis, an academy teacher who rose through the healthcare ladder, starting as an aide who worked in people’s homes. She has just completed her doctorate as a nurse practitioner.

“The need has only grown all the more since the pandemic,” she said.

Families who saw how COVID-19 tore apart long-term care facilities in the first few months of the pandemic, wreaking havoc and death, tried to keep loved ones home and find support. help with their care.

When they contact Ortega, she passes them on to Mathis’ husband Derrick, who also has an office at the academy and runs Veritas Training and Consulting Services, which refers potential caregivers to families.

He sees continued growth for his business – and the training of caregivers – as 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day, according to the AARP. The number of older people will more than double in the coming decades and will be one in five people by 2050, according to AARP estimates.

Derrick Mathis said many nurses and caregivers left the field when the pandemic began, possibly because they were nearing retirement age and had concerns about COVID-19 and their own exposure .

Others with young children “had to make tough decisions” about their care last year as schools moved to virtual classrooms, Jenette Riggan, resident care coordinator for the brand new Trinity Senior Village, told Locust Grove. “It places a heavy burden on the parent, especially women, because more often than not you see women in this area. “

Trinity is an assisted living facility that also plans to provide care to people with memory problems. Trinity is trying to fill her vacancies and has seen an influx of potential applicants who have left other jobs due to COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Trinity “strongly encourages” employees to get vaccinated, but currently does not have a mandate, Riggan said.

Visiting Angels, which sends health workers to homes for the elderly, is in the same situation, said Cathy Lewis, director of recruiting. She also doesn’t mandate vaccines, but because 95 percent of clients want to be seen by workers who are fully vaccinated, she said: are not vaccinated.

She offered a glimpse of encouragement, that in the past two or three months, maybe when in-person classes resumed, more people have returned to work.

“I think it has a lot to do with the fact that in our industry people want to go back to work, to feel like they’re making a difference again,” she said.


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