Arizona assisted living communities are gearing up to hire aspiring caregivers after Gov. Doug Ducey signed an executive order last month allowing on-the-job training for caregiver certification amid an entry-level healthcare worker shortage.
The order requires potential caregivers to complete 62 hours of training with a licensed health care professional and pass the Arizona Board of Nursing Care Institution Administrators and Assisted Living Facility Managers examination with a score of 75 percent or better.
"It provides a better opportunity to get people trained," said Andy Briefer, managing partner of Via Elegante Assisted Living and Memory Care Companies. "We've been able to maintain our caregivers, but it's a struggle. It's always hard."
Briefer said Ducey's executive order helps assisted living facilities like his to provide needed support to the most susceptible population to COVID-19 while offering a career-change to those who may have been recently laid off. New caregivers will start out between $13 to $18 hourly, depending on their experience, according to Briefer. The position also offers full medical, dental and vision benefits, 401K and paid-time-off.
"This takes away some of the obstacles to become a caregiver. One of the hardest things about learning a new career is finding the time and being able to make money while you're sitting in a classroom," Briefer said. "Hopefully this creates an opportunity for people to shift. If you were working in the restaurant industry and find yourself stuck, this is a great opportunity to get involved with healthcare."
Traditionally, caregivers must complete 42 classroom hours and 20 eLearning hours at a healthcare career school with tuition costs upwards of $500. Under the new program, aspiring caregivers could nix tuition, but would still be required spend $65 for the state exam, $30 for a county food handlers certificate, $20 to be fingerprinted, and $67 for their Department of Public Safety Fingerprinting Card for a total of $182.
CEO of Pima Medical Institute Fred Freedman said while he prefers classroom training, the executive order is necessary to meet the demand assisted living facilities are facing while trying to properly staff during this unprecedented time.
"It's really an emergency order based on the unprecedented need for the elderly, our most vulnerable population," he said. "In a pre-COVID environment, I would say it's not good to learn on-the-job for high tech skills in healthcare."
Freedman said the current caregiver staffing issues are happening nationwide as more COVID-19 cases are diagnosed each day. The industry was already suffering from a caregiver shortage due to low wages and stressful demands of the career. The pandemic has only made the situation worse, said Freedman.
"There is no question this is a national situation and not local to Arizona. This pandemic has led to a severe shortage because people are scared to go into the nursing homes for a variety of reasons," Freedman said. "There are people that have decided they would rather not put themselves in that perceived danger, thus creating more of a need than there was before."
Rebeka McGee, vice president for health initiatives for Pima Council on Aging also believes while the executive order isn't ideal, it's needed to fill entry-level caregiver positions at a crucial time.
"Overall we need to be flexible. As an industry, things have been changing so rapidly that it's been a matter of looking at what works, and then taking a step back and evaluating that on a weekly basis," McGee said. "The benefit is there's a number of staff supervising them, all licensed healthcare professionals, as a part of the requirements and we'll be evaluating (the program) as it happens."
McGee said her organization is currently developing certified nursing assistant and certified caregiver programs online materials for assisted living facilities to use while training caregivers during this time. They expect to launch their web-based learning programs on May 18, according to McGee.
"We are looking forward to partnering with assisted living facilities and skilled nursing facilities across the area to see how we can support the best we can," McGee said.
Freedman doesn't think the order will stay in effect for too long since it also has a revise or repeal stipulation to be considered by Ducey and staff every two weeks since being issued on April 14.
"I don't think anybody believes this is an ideal situation," Freedman said. "I do think everybody will realize and agree more preparation is preferred over someone that's learning on the job."