Ashley Mora says her job as a nurse assistant is neither easy nor glamorous.
She's at the entry level of the health care industry, providing hands-on care — bathing, dressing, grooming and feeding — for elderly people who can do little for themselves.
"You need to have an interest in other people's welfare," said Mora, 22, of Santa Rosa, who works at the Spring Lake Village senior living community. "It's definitely not a glorious job."
But in a down economy with limited employment opportunities, people are rushing to join Mora as a certified nurse assistant, a job that pays $12 to $16 an hour.
The American Red Cross office in Santa Rosa started a nurse assistant training program in 1993 and has graduated about 1,600 people, plus another 400 trained as home health aides.
Enrollment in the Santa Rosa nurse assistant program has more than doubled from 150 to 350 in the past two years, while similar programs have started in Ukiah, Fort Bragg, San Rafael and four other Northern California locations.
People in their 20s to 70s have enrolled, many having lost jobs in the construction, insurance, wine and high tech industries, said Maggie O'Brien, nurse assistant training administrator for the Santa Rosa Red Cross.
"It's a really hard job," O'Brien said, noting that nurse assistants - typically employed in nursing homes — spend more time with patients than anyone else in health care.
Turnover is high, as many move on to other nursing jobs, and the work demands strength to lift and turn patients and fortitude to cope with death and dying, O'Brien said.
Some elderly people can be frustrating, Mora said, because they can be too confused to express their needs or to understand what they are told.
A steadily aging population, along with the trend of discharging hospital patients for rehabilitation at nursing homes, guarantees a demand for nurse assistants.
Spring Lake Village employs 35 to 40 nursing assistants to provide 24-hour care to as many as 70 long-term care and rehab patients, said Jodi Arnheiter, director of staff development.
The facility has hired about 20 graduates from the Red Cross training program. "They understand the geriatric patient when they come through the door," Arnheiter said.
More than 1.3 million nurse assistants, home health aides and registered nurses will be needed nationwide over the next six years, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics employment forecast.
The local Red Cross can't say how many of its 2,000 graduates have found jobs, noting that about one-third go on directly to nursing school and others take the training to care for a loved one.
The local program is now running three classes at a time, with a waiting list for enrollment, O'Brien said. Tuition for the 160-hour program is $1,395, with the money going to pay instructors and support Red Cross humanitarian efforts.
Mora, who graduated from Montgomery High School in 2007, completed the program in 2008 and has worked since then as a nurse assistant.
She just enrolled in Santa Rosa Junior College's license vocational nurse program and expects to be certified in two years.
The nurse assistant training "gives you the fundamentals," she said. "If you are interested in it, it's easy."
For information on the Red Cross nurse assistant and home health aide training program, go to http://arcsm.org.