Grant Wishes Local Health Care Providers Will Benefit From $6 Million Statewide Training Grant

The Western Mass. workforce is about to receive a training boost in the form of a $276,000 grant from the Commonwealth Corporation, and health care workers are at the top of the list to receive aid.


William Ward, executive director of the Regional Employment Board (REB) of Hampden County, announced on Jan. 11 that seven employers – two in Agawam and five in Holyoke – will benefit from the grant, which will be used to create training opportunities for 150 people within those companies and 40 currently unemployed residents, chosen by area career centers.

Of the seven local employers set to participate in the program, known as BayState Works, three are health care providers: Heritage Hall, a long-term care facility in Agawam; Loomis Communities, a nursing and assisted living facility based in Holyoke; and Holyoke Medical Center. Providence Ministries for the Needy, a program administered by the Sisters of Providence (also parent organization of the Sisters of Providence Health Systems), Sealed Air Corp., and Universal Plastics, all in Holyoke, and Governors America in Agawam, a manufacturer of electronic and mechanical controls for engines, round out the list of participating employers.

“The REB recognizes that the advancement of our region rests in the skills of our workforce,” Ward said. “We look at these grant funds as ‘venture capital;’ and we look at this program as a major event. Essentially, it will help us develop new approaches so training vessels can work more closely with employers, and in turn, we can stay competitive.”

The grant was offered as part of the Commonwealth Corporation’s Building Essential Skills through Training (BEST) Initiative, and ultimately $6 million in funds were awarded to 11 REBs statewide. The Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce will coordinate local training programs funded through the BEST grant.

Doris Ransford, president of the Holyoke Chamber, said the organization has maintained a strong association with workforce training initiatives such as BayState Works because of the direct impact training programs have on the health and future of the Western Mass. economy.

“This is an excellent example of area businesses sharing our best practices to create greater opportunities.”

“We view workforce development as synonymous with economic development,” said Ransford. “We understand the importance of a skilled workforce in our area, and that is why the Chamber is so involved.”

Holyoke Medical Center, which Ward described as a key partner in the grant proposal process, received one of the larger portions of the grant. According to HMC President Hank Porten, the hospital will establish a new position – patient care technician – and cross-train 24 current employees such as nurses aides and EKG technicians in areas including phlebotomy and patient aid in order to serve as patient care technicians.

“The retraining will ensure that our employees are strong in multiple skills,” Porten explained, “and then a second level of training will add the additional necessary skills. Overall, the program will help us provide the best care possible, with the best-trained employees.”

Additionally, Loomis Communities has been awarded a portion of the grant in order to offer first-responder training and adult basic education for staff members, including those in food service, environmental, and housekeeping positions.

Marilyn Webb, Extended Care Career Ladder Initiative Coordinator at Loomis, said a growing trend among long-term care facilities is to train all employees, including non-clinical staff, to be first responders able to provide assistance in the event of a potentially life-threatening emergency. She added that the BEST grant was awarded at a time when most clinical staff had already received first responder training, and broadening the skills of the remaining staff was a logical progression.

Heritage Hall will use the grant funds for similar training of non-clinical staff, as well as for a computer education program and mentorship initiatives for all employees.

“We’re very excited about this,” said Ira Schoenberger, senior administrator for Heritage Hall East, adding that some of Heritage Hall’s training programs, such as the computer education classes, will be open to employees at the other participating companies and organizations. “It’s an excellent example of area businesses sharing our best practices to create greater opportunities.”

Ward said Holyoke Community College, CareerPoint, and the Massachusetts Career Development Institute (MCDI) have also signed on as training partners, to assist in the facilitation of the various programs.

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