Central Oregon Community College is offering a new non-credit nursing assistant class for healthcare workers of St. Charles Health System in Bend.

The entire no-cost, two-year pilot program is taught solely at St. Charles Bend, and the students are paid regular wages while learning and training to become certified nursing assistants, said Julie Downing, Central Oregon Community College Health Careers instructional dean.

It’s designed to fill a growing need for healthcare workers who are often a patient’s first interaction at a health care facility.

The Oregon Employment Department projects that the need for certified nursing assistants will grow by 11% over the next decade, said Jana Bitton, Oregon Center for Nursing executive director. More than 1,670 new certified nursing assistants will be needed to meet the demands of the health care industry, Bitton said.

In 2010, there were 18,321 licensed certified nursing assistants in Oregon, with about 16,700 practicing in the state. In 2018, these figures declined to 18,101 and about 15,500 practicing.

“COVID-19 is also having an impact on the certified nursing assistant workforce,” Bitton said.

In 2020, Central Oregon had about 416 certified nursing assistants — 27 in Crook County, 356 in Deschutes County and 33 in Jefferson County, Bitton said. The Oregon Employment Department is projecting that these three counties will need an additional 79 each year over the next 10 years to meet projected demand.

Debbie Robinson, a chief nursing officer at St. Charles Bend, said recently the hospital had more than two dozen certified nursing assistant positions vacant. The class, which is in addition to the college’s on-campus credit program, is designed to advance workers’ careers while they get paid, Robinson said.

“I am so pleased to be able to offer this program in our community, which we’re hopeful will continue to grow over time,” Robinson said. “It is a great opportunity for those considering a career in health care and it will help meet our hospital and clinics’ high demand for this important role.”

Once the students complete the class they can move up to available certified nursing assistant positions. Their tuition is paid for by the hospital. The program is being partially funded by a grant from the state, the Workforce Talent Development Board, to cover the program administrator’s salary for the first year. The balance of the program is being funded by St. Charles, Downing said.

To get a similar degree at Central Oregon Community College would cost upwards of $1,500, she said. Previously workers who wanted to change their positions had to attend classes at the community college.

The first class began Oct. 12 and runs for five weeks, 40 hours a week, eight hours a day for a total of 53 hours of lecture and 27 hours of lab work. Students also have to obtain 75 hours of clinical experience before becoming a certified nursing assistant, she said.

“St. Charles hires many of our students from our credit program,” she said. “It’s a partnership we’ve been working on for a long time.”

It took about 18 months to put the program together and to obtain the necessary approvals. The content used in these non-credit courses is approved by the Oregon State Board of Nursing, according to the community college.

“Finding new ways to grow regional workforce development is a central part of our mission,” said Laurie Chesley, Central Oregon Community College president, in a prepared statement. “St. Charles has long been an active partner with COCC, dating back to the start of our nursing program in the 1950s. We’re excited to keep investing in this relationship for the betterment and well-being of Central Oregon.”

Reporter: 541-633-2117, sroig@bendbulletin.com

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