Nursing Shortage Affecting St. Ann’s, Lake Superior College’s CNA Program

60 people are employed at St. Ann's Residence, when 70 is what is considered full staff.

DULUTH, Minn.- While there’s been much about pandemic-fueled stress on Minnesota hospitals, the state’s long-term care industry is now facing a workforce shortage like no other. Now schools like Lake Superior College are struggling to graduate students into more entry-level healthcare positions to fill the void.

“There is a huge need locally, regionally, across the state as well as nationally right now for nursing assistants,” said Anna Sackette-Urness, Dean of Allied Health and Nursing at LSC. “They are so much an integral part of the healthcare team and so making sure that we have full classes so we can graduate students throughout the year.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, staff shortages have been commonplace.

“You can’t go 10ft. in any direction without seeing a now hiring sign,” said Scott Johnson. And a now hiring sign sits in front of St. Ann’s Residence on 3rd street in Duluth.

Johnson, Executive Director of the assisted living facility, said right now 60 people are employed there when 70 is what he considers a comfortable full staff.

“Just that feeling of not all the resources that we were used to having before the pandemic,” he said.

He says the stress of not having those 10 people can be felt from their dining rooms to their nurses and nursing assistants.

“They’ve been working a lot of overtime, a lot of scheduled overtime for lots of months. So really feel it there,” said Johnson. “They’re covering their schedule, and they’re covering positions. But it’s exhausting.”

It’s a story heard in senior care facilities throughout Minnesota, which are short 23,000 jobs statewide.

According to Sackette-Urness, it’s an overall decline of people entering entry-level healthcare positions. “It’s been a combination of things.”

“Sometimes there is that ebb and flow of people going into those entry-level healthcare fields, so we have seen somewhat of a decline,” she said. “COVID, the Pandemic has not helped with that.”

But at Lake Superior College’s CNA program — “Enrollment has been down somewhat,” Sackette-Urness said.

She said when thinking about healthcare, many only think about nurses and physicians – but there’s are many other positions requiring other important skills.

“Many people want that direct patient contact, that direct patient care, and that’s what being a nursing assistant is all about,” said the Dean. “It’s not just a stepping stone to get into some of our other healthcare programs, but it is truly something that you can do long-term.”

Sackette-Urness encourages students to enroll in the CNA course, which features 60 hours of classroom work and 16 hours of hands-on clinics, before taking the Nursing Assistant Test Out (NATO) to get certified.

“The 2nd day of class that week then you’re in the lab where you’re actually practicing on fellow students to take those vital signs, to learn how to take a blood pressure, to count respirations,” she said.

Meanwhile, Johnson welcomes both new CNAs and anyone who couldn’t get care at another facility to St. Ann’s.

Still, he says the industry is in a place he’s never seen before.

“It’s awfully difficult to look back at what it was like before the pandemic and look at it today and try to draw comparisons because I think we’re still coping and dealing with what that virus has done,” Johnson said.

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