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Caregiver training in Oregon: Preparing for a workforce demand

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Oregon has some unique characteristics that make training and qualification of home care workers increasingly important. According to a recent Oregonian report, rural counties in the state are aging much faster than the rest of the state.

More than 80% of the population in the U.S. lives in urban settings, according to the United States Census. In Oregon, this remains an accurate representation of the population but the trend is even more telling. In the past century, from 1900 to 2000, the portion of the population living in rural areas decreased from 70% of the total Oregon population to today’s 20%.

While that shift in population means that residents in urban areas often have resources and services readily available, those living in rural areas can find themselves with unmet needs and untrained, unqualified workers.

Identifying this need on a national scale the National Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) offered funding to programs that could create training programs for direct care workers, with an emphasis on training that utilized technology and reached into rural areas.

Southwestern Oregon Community College, working in collaboration with Oregon Health Care Association, the Institute for Professional Care Education and Oregon Community Colleges Healthcare Education Alliance (CCHEA), responded to HRSA’s grant opportunity with a proposal to develop a blended training initiative that reached all areas of Oregon. This initiative became one of a handful of programs nationwide designed to create a model for training the next generation of caregivers.

Through this program, named the Oregon Nursing Assistant Home Health Aide (NAHHA) Training Initiative, the team developed blended training programs for advanced level nursing assistants, home health aides and community health workers and expanded the nursing assistant blended training program. Each program has had student enrollments with opportunities for training provided to students throughout the state of Oregon at little or no cost to the student.

The design of the blended training programs was specifically tailored to work for individuals living in rural areas. A significant portion of each training is delivered online through an interactive, computer based program, allowing students to proceed at a pace that fits their needs, accessing the online training through any internet connection anywhere and at any time.

Each program has an instructor-led component as well. Reducing instructor time forces programs to focus on the in-person, hands-on training that cannot be done online such as practicing and demonstrating skills in a laboratory setting and in a clinical setting under the supervision and guidance of an instructor.

In the end, both rural and urban students can access training that fits for their schedule and their individual needs. Time spent in the classroom in minimized, reducing time away from families and jobs.
For the colleges partnering with this program, one key benefit has been increased efficiency of an increasingly scarce resource: nurse instructors.

For individuals requiring caregiving services, the benefits are a growing trained and competent workforce that is more computer and technology literate and more accessible to them, wherever they live.
These are some of the good ideas to help support aging individuals living in rural parts of the state. We’ll explore more in the next in this series of articles examining the state of Caregiver Training in Oregon in 2014.

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