Maryhill Manor offers program to train CNAs

Patti Sparpani, a registered nurse at Maryhill Manor, shows one of the mannequins used as part of the certified nursing assistant training program she teaches at the care facility in Niagara, Wis. (Iron Mountain Daily News photo by Marguerite Lanthier)

NIAGARA, Wis. — During National Nursing Assistant Week, Maryhill Manor in Niagara is highlighting its certified nursing assistant training program that helps keep enough of these pivotal staff members for resident care.

Patti Sparpani, a registered nurse at Maryhill, has taught the nursing assistant training course since 2014 after taking a management position. In order to teach the class, she had to attend a training course, open only to RNs, to gain state certification.

Potential students interview for the course and go through the hiring process. They must pass background and reference checks, a physical and general orientation before they can start the class.

“When I interview a student for the class, I make sure they understand what a CNA does,” Sparpani said. “As a CNA, it’s not work for everybody, I tell them it’s more of a calling. Any time you go into the nursing field, it’s a calling. Some people aren’t comfortable with the tasks that a CNA does. You can kind of tell right away in the interview process if they are the right fit for that.”

Students accepted for the program are paid a salary while taking the class and sign a contract to remain on staff for at least a year after completing the course. If they leave earlier, they must pay back the cost at a prorated amount.

When she asks why they want to become a CNA and if they understand the job, they often say, “Oh yeah, I took care of my grandmother or my grandfather,” Sparpani said.

“You can tell they’re enthusiastic about becoming a caregiver,” she said.

One difference from the class she took during nurses training is students in her class start to develop a relationship with the residents even before they are on the floor, because they are in the building, Sparpani said.

Up to eight students can take the class at the same time, but she has taught as few as two depending on their interest and Maryhill’s staffing needs. The last class in April had two students. She has taught as few as three classes a year and as many as eight.

The class is 120 hours, split into 40 hours a week over three weeks.

“When I took the course it was over several weekends, so it was over several months,” Sparpani noted.

The first part is the instruction and bookwork. “They’re learning what’s in the book, they’re learning the material and they’re learning more of the ‘why’ we do things,” she explained. “We’re working on theory.”

In the second week, the students begin doing skills practice in the classroom. They have a mannequin and pair up to try tasks such as checking vitals.

When they start to work with the mannequin, Sparpani will ask the class, “‘So, what do you think our mannequin looks like?’ and whoever puts the name out first, then I say ‘OK, that’s his name for the class.’ So he’s been Fred, and he also has female parts for practicing different skills and they have to practice interacting with him like they would be interacting with a resident, so if it’s a female resident, they’ll say, ‘Good morning, Fredricka, this is Patti’ and they have to explain what the procedure is. They have fun with that.

“After that, I do a mock skills check-off that prepares them to take their state exam. It’s just like they would do on their skills exam, they have to do a certain skill, it might be transferring a resident or bathing a resident.

“The third week that’s when they’re starting on the floor and they’re doing hands on with the residents. They’re always excited for that third week,” she said.

Students attend from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for the first two weeks, then do floor shifts at the 75-room care facility during the final week. They do two day shifts, 5:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and two evening shifts, 2 to 10:30 p.m., so they get to see the entire day for a CNA. They don’t do night shifts.

She said when she first started teaching the class, the students only did day shifts, but from feedback she found students wanted to learn the differences in the residents’ day, such as helping them get ready for bed in the evening as opposed to getting them up in the morning.

She said the toughest part for students often is learning to relax and act naturally with the residents.

“When they’re learning in here, and working with the mannequin, and then they’re going out onto the floor and it’s a human being, once they start to relax, they just start to do naturally what they’ve learned and that’s when it becomes more rewarding for them,” Sparpani said.

They already had focused on infection control and hand hygiene before COVID-19, so the teaching didn’t change much. COVID protocols that were enacted included limiting the class to four students, wearing masks and social distancing.

For more on the CNA program, call Maryhill Manor at 715-251-3172.


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