BANGOR, Maine — It’s a joke that Jeff Boal, Mount Desert Island Hospital’s director of education, rarely gets tired of telling.
“I keep saying it’s good that so many people involved in this program work in [an] ICU because it needed to be resuscitated more than once,” said Boal.
He’s referring to the groundbreaking Experienced Certified Nursing Assistant program at Eastern Maine Community College. Boal says it’s the first of its kind not only in Maine, but in the country.
“There are similar programs, but this is the only one I’m aware of that incorporates an actual yearlong curriculum,” said Genevieve Gipson, a registered nurse and director of the Ohio-based National Network of Career Nursing Assistants. “This is definitely a positive development. I’m anxious to learn more about it.”
The program resulted from a Federal Health Care Sector Grant and the realization that no educational program existed that specifically addressed educating and training certified nursing assistants in the eight additional tasks the Maine State Board of Nursing assigned CNAs two years ago, such as drawing blood, checking blood sugar and helping with IVs.
“They’re able to do tests and competencies that other CNAs cannot do,” said Barbara Hannon, MDI Hospital’s chief nurse. “They’re able to assist the nurses at each hospital in a better way.”
Boal said the idea was to raise the skill levels of CNAs to better address gaps and areas previously assigned to registered nurses and specialists. That approach has been of keen interest and value to Maine’s rural hospitals.
Several rural health care facilities took part in the program. In all, the following hospitals contributed staff, facilities and CNA students: MDI Hospital, Blue Hill Memorial, Down East Community, Maine Coast Memorial, Mayo Regional and C.A. Dean.
“Last August, we were dead in the water because we were unable to find anyone to take us on as an accredited program,” Boal said.
Then Boal made a presentation to EMCC President Larry Barrett and Mike Ballesteros, the school’s dean of development and business services. It took 10 minutes for them to say yes.
“And there was more resistance to this project than I would publicly admit. It was difficult,” Boal said.
Several medical professionals questioned the need for experienced CNAs and wondered how the extra training would make a difference.
“Initially there was a lot of resistance because it was change, it was different,” Boal explained. “We have a scope of practice in nursing where there are tasks you do and don’t do, and this changes some of that.”
Deborah Thomas, director of Eastern Maine Medical Center’s Education and Training Center, was one of those cynics.
“She wasn’t sure what the point of this was, as a lot of people weren’t,” Boal said. “But at one point later on, she said if she had a choice for hiring someone between a CNA and a CNA who did this ECNA program, she’d take the ECNA every time.”
Each of the 14 members of the inaugural ECNA class received 104 hours of training and class time over a 12-month period. Of the 14, only one didn’t finish and that’s only because her doctor ordered her to get bed rest during her pregnancy.
“There’s a lot of dedication here,” said Hannon. “Some of these graduates traveled the entire state to do this. They’ve gone from Greenville to Blue Hill to MDI, and some of them travel four to five hours a day to go to an eight-hour class.”
Cheryl Kolodziej, a CNA since 1976 who now works at MDI Hospital, is also a graduate of the first ECNA class.
“For me, it was more of a boost to get back into school and broaden my knowledge in the field,” said Koldziej. “But getting to work with the other staff members at other hospitals was great in terms of experience and seeing what they do.”
Hannon said the program offers rewards for participants, patients and the profession in general.
“This changes their role in the hospital, it changes their salary remuneration, and now the program is being extended to other hospitals in the state and outside,” she said.
St. Mary’s Hospital in Lewiston already has adopted the model for this program and partnered with Central Maine Community College to create a similar curriculum for elderly care.
“This program is an unequivocal success and offers a model of how valuable partnerships can be in the pooling of limited resources to achieve a common goal,” said Boal.