SPRINGFIELD — The Home Health Aide program at Springfield Technical Community College has given Rhonda Skinner more than just skills to care for the elderly and people with disabilities.
“When I walked through that door, my life changed,” said Skinner, one of 18 graduates who were honored with certificates at a ceremony on July 7. “All of it has impacted my life more than I thought it would. It’s made me stronger. I thought I was confident before, but now I’m even more confident.”
Skinner and her classmates received certificates after successfully completing a program administered by Training and Workforce Options (TWO), a collaboration between STCC and Holyoke Community College.
The program was supported by a 2016 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education’s Training Resources and Internship Networks (TRAIN) Program. Because the grant ended this year, Skinner’s class represented the fourth and final cohort of TRAIN home health aide graduates.
Sharon Grundel, director of Healthcare Training Development for TWO, said she hopes the state will revisit funding for the program. While a stand-alone course is not currently offered, anyone seeking training as a home health aide can enroll in the Certified Nurse Aide (CNA) Plus program at STCC.
Grundel said 50 people graduated from the four cohorts, and the majority of them have landed jobs.
The graduates are highly sought after by employers, said Dr. Arlene Rodriguez, Vice President of Academic Affairs at STCC. “It is one of the highest-demand occupations, not only in the Springfield area, but throughout the Commonwealth.”
Lisa Gentile, nurse case manager at Porchlight VNA/Home Care in Chicopee, said her agency has hired several of the program’s graduates.
“There’s a huge demand,” she noted. “Within the next 10 years, we won’t have enough caregivers to meet the need. We’re constantly working on filling our schedule every day. The referrals just constantly come in, and we’re struggling to meet the need. It’s not just us. It’s every home-care agency.”
While some are new to the field, other graduates had been working as home health aides or personal-care attendants and needed certification. All participants received OSHA-10 certifications, National Career Readiness Certificate preparation and testing, and first aid and CPR certification. They also received career-pathway advising about the healthcare industry, especially how an entry-level position such as a home health aide or personal-care attendant can lead to job and wage advancement.
Gentile called the Home Health Aide Program at STCC “super important” to agencies like Porchlight because it provides valuable training and produces quality employees. “We just hired some from the last class. You can just see they’re a notch above the rest. They’re worth their weight in gold.”