Enrollment in nurse assistant training program soars as program expands

  • CNA Ashley Mora helps resident Hal Ling move from his wheelchair to his bed during her shift at Spring Lake Village in Santa Rosa, California on Monday, December 5, 2011. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

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.

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