NEWPORT — For Newport career-tech school director Jennifer Opalinski, whose school launched its second adult-education licensed nursing assistant (LNA) program this month, the biggest obstacle was not a lack of career-motivated individuals.

Rather, Opalinski found there were more eager applicants than anticipated.

“We advertised the LNA course in early February and the interest level was beyond expectation. We soon had more applicants than we had funding.” said Opalinski, director of the Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center (SRVRTC) in Newport.

But this crisis also illustrated the potential of Sullivan County’s fledgling workforce initiative, which two years ago began partnering with two Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center campuses in Claremont and Newport to offer free adult education to selected applicants in such fields as basic machining, welding, plumbing, and licensed nursing assistance (LNA). Each school has received $20,000 in funds from Sullivan County’s grant program for community partners to launch a pilot program for adults to develop skills in workforce readiness over a multi-week period.

Opalinski said she launched the LNA program with $10,000 of the county grant. Instead of denying the additional applicants, Opalinski reached out to community partners. Alex Herzog, director of the Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center in Claremont, the Newport School District offered Opalinski additional operating funds. LNA Health Careers, who is providing the course instruction, waived an increase in their services fees to accommodate additional students.

“The community really came together to ensure that as many adult LNAs could be trained as possible,” Opalinski said.

The free courses are typically eight weeks long. Students who are accepted must be Sullivan County residents and demonstrate a commitment to complete the program.

The new cohort of LNA students began their class three weeks ago, Opalinski said. They are set to graduate in mid-June and “begin their new jobs with local employers soon after.”

The Newport program has partnered with Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont and Woodlawn Care Center, an assisted living facility in Newport, that will provide clinical hours for the LNA students.

The problem of LNA shortages predates the pandemic, largely due to their relatively low-pay scale, according to residential care providers, though the importances of LNAs became even more evident during the pandemic.

In a statement to The Eagle Times, Opalinski suggested that care facility employers could potentially attract additional people to become LNAs by offering tuition-reimbursement programs for LNA graduates to earn their licensed practical nurse (LPN) degrees.

“River Valley Community College and LNA Health Careers both offer great LPN programs,” Opalinski said. “LNA is a prerequisite for LPN and is the perfect stepping stone to a great career in health care.”

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