Demand rapidly rising for health care workers



Sullivan resident Mary Trudeau, who worked as a nursing assistant at Collier’s Nursing Home and in the intensive care unit at Maine Coast Memorial Hospital, is entering her senior year in a nursing program at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. HEALTH QUARTERLY PHOTO BY CHARLES EICHACKER
Sullivan resident Mary Trudeau, who worked as a nursing assistant at Collier’s Nursing Home and in the intensive care unit at Maine Coast Memorial Hospital, is entering her senior year in a nursing program at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. HEALTH QUARTERLY PHOTO BY CHARLES EICHACKER

Mary Trudeau wasn’t planning to enter the health care field when she first moved to the United States in 2006. A native of Lagos, Nigeria, she relocated here to be with her husband, a Maine native. They now live in Sullivan.

When she arrived Downeast, Trudeau, now 37, was hoping to find a job in public administration or political science, which she’d studied in her home country. Yet with a recession looming and not gaining American citizenship until 2010, those fields were not sources of employment.

Trudeau, by her own description, “doesn’t like to be idle.” So when a flier arrived from the Regional School Unit 24 Adult Education program, it set her on a different path. She now wants to become a nurse educator. She’s entering her senior year in a nursing program at the University of Maine at Fort Kent.

Now, Trudeau is very grateful for her adult ed experience. At very little cost, and in less than 10 years, it’s gotten her far in her health care training.

Without any previous experience in medicine or nursing, she earned the equivalent of an American high school diploma and took a three-month course to earn her certified nursing assistant (CNA) credential.

That training translated into several years of nursing assistant work at Collier’s Nursing Home and, later, in the intensive care unit at Maine Coast Memorial Hospital. She lost her job there when the hospital downsized several years ago, at which point she entered the UMFK nursing program.

“I didn’t mind starting over,” Trudeau said. “I loved [the CNA program], and love is an understatement. I love patient care. It’s not just a profession. It’s also a service to others.”

Along the way, she had a son, who is now 3 years old. She has also sent money back to relatives in Nigeria whenever possible (“because $250, it’s big money back there.”).

Trudeau’s path is worth bearing in mind for Mainers entering or re-entering the job market.

The state’s population is one of the oldest in the nation — if not the oldest — and the coming decades are expected to see growth in the health- and elder-care industries. According to Maine Department of Labor projections, 10,000 jobs will be created in such fields between 2012 and 2022, as the baby boomers age.

Now, adult education programs around the state are meeting that demand, diversifying their health-related course offerings while also working with providers to determine what positions will need filling. They’re helping students plot their careers, as well as finding funding for those not already covered by public programs.

In Hancock County, those programs include the adult ed centers in Sullivan (RSU 24), Bucksport (RSU 25), Ellsworth (through the city’s school department) and Bar Harbor (based at Mount Desert Island High School).

The RSU 24 adult ed program “is very responsive to community need,” said Annie Sargent, director of Ellsworth Adult Education. “Our county is one of the grayest counties in Maine — the oldest — so there is need for health care training.”

According to Sargent, her adult ed center, as well as others, are increasingly instructing students in “stackable” skills that build on one another, but also are in demand by themselves.

While they still offer CNA courses, for example, they also offer shorter courses to earn certifications such as Certified Residential Medication Aide (CRMA; the acronyms alone have a learning curve). Those credentials can be ends in themselves, Sargent said, but they also can give the background knowledge necessary for students to pursue further training.

That was the case for Trudeau, who shaved at least a year off her current nursing program requirements with her adult ed coursework.

Now, a program is being created by area adult ed centers and Eastern Maine Development Corp. (EMDC), which marshals state funding to those adult ed centers. Once created, the “Hancock County Health Care Academy” would improve the ability of students to work in health care jobs while taking courses.

“There is a need for medical assistants,” said Theresa Mudgett, career pathways coordinator at EMDC (adding that there also is a need for instructors in math and other skills at the adult ed centers.)

“Whether it be at long-term care facilities like Sonogee [Rehabilitation & Living Center], or hospitals like [Eastern Maine Medical Center]… they are all looking for CNAs and nurse technicians.”

Charles Eichacker

Charles Eichacker

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Charles Eichacker covers the towns of Bucksport, Orland, Castine, Verona Island, Penobscot, Brooksville and Dedham. When not working on stories, he likes books, beer and the outdoors. [email protected]

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