BOSTON — Hundreds of aspiring nurse aides in Massachusetts can start taking their certification exams in Spanish and Chinese next year, the start of a multilingual policy that advocates and lawmakers say will tackle a major workforce shortage in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
The English-only exam for certified nurse aides (CNAs) has prevented non-native speakers — including those with years of nursing experience in other countries — from accessing the entry-level healthcare role here. The new language options were included in a policy section within the fiscal 2024 budget that Gov. Maura Healey signed into law last week, but lawmakers say it is only the first step in breaking down barriers for immigrant CNAs and improving care for nursing-home residents who don’t speak English.
“Just before the pandemic, we turned away probably three dozen applicants that wanted to become nurse aides because we knew they couldn’t pass the test in English, so this is going to be a huge help for us, and I think it’s going to benefit other populations as well,” said Bill Graves, president and CEO of South Cove Manor, a nursing and rehabilitation facility in Quincy where the vast majority of residents are native Chinese speakers. “We could hire another dozen tomorrow and put them to work right away if they could pass the test.”
An influx of new CNAs — who provide care for daily tasks like bathing, eating, and dressing — would improve staffing ratios and help stem burnout among current staffers who must work overtime, Graves said.
Under the budget signed by Healey, the Department of Public Health must offer the CNA exam in a language other than English no later than Oct. 1, 2024. DPH is working with the state’s CNA testing provider to ensure exam guides are developed, translated, and made available to applicants. There will be a public comment period, as well as a public hearing, as DPH modifies nurse-aide regulations.