Abernethy Laurels ‘Earn and Learn’ Certified Nursing Assistant Program Fills Staffing Gap

After experiencing two years of staffing challenges during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Abernethy Laurels Retirement Community, part of CHHSM member EveryAge, created “Earn and Learn,” an innovative solution to train and hire certified nursing assistants, the community’s frontline care providers. To date, 40 people have gone through the program and been certified.

“During the pandemic, most training programs were temporarily closed, and this impacted the flow of certified nursing assistants in the market,” said Aimee Reimann, COO of EveryAge.

In response to this shortage, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) authorized emergency nursing assistant certifications, and Abernethy Laurels staff members — from the executive director to several department heads — took the initiative to be certified as nursing assistants and help take care of residents. Several times a week, the executive director and nursing home administrator donned scrubs and gave showers. Some independent living residents even learned how to properly feed another person, volunteering their time in the nursing home section of the community.

Abernethy Laurels designed its Earn and Learn Program to create more trained C.N.A. professionals and help ensure that residents have access to the care they need. The State of North Carolina-approved program delivers both classroom and clinical training and prepares students to sit for the State’s written and skills tests. Classes alternate between a 4-week or an 8-week evening session, and each class enrolls 10-13 students, offering participants intensive training on essential nursing assistant skills.

Integral to Earn and Learn’s development was Abernethy Laurels’ Recruitment and Retention Committee, whose members helped generate key points of the unique program, which pays student employees to be in class and take the certification tests. The program also provides their uniforms. Once a student employee becomes certified, their hourly wage increases. As long as they continue to work at Abernethy Laurels for at least a year, there is no cost to them for having enrolled in the program.

Earn and Learn has been a game changer for both the retirement community and student employees because it allows students to build relationships with the residents who will be receiving their assistance. The program also introduces students to other team members and to the layout and operations of the community itself, which streamlines new employee orientation.

Perhaps most important to students is the knowledge that the Earn and Learn Program makes it possible to pursue a career in the field of long-term care. With many traditional programs, students can’t maintain an existing job and pay for new educational courses at the same time. Abernethy Laurels removes that real-world challenge with its paid-to-learn curriculum for C.N.A. professionals. Students in the program no longer have to choose between working and getting trained and certified. They do both.

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