Personal Care Aids (PCAs) assist the elderly and people with intellectual, developmental, or physical disabilities, and/or mental illnesses in their homes with non-medical support of activities of daily living like bathing, toileting, dressing, meal preparation, and home cleaning. Although restrictive recommendations set up to slow the spread of COVID-19 are being lifted for healthy individuals, those who are most at risk of developing serious complications from the virus continue to struggle with isolation and access to health care and necessities. Employers that provide residential and home care services are struggling to retain and hire enough personal care aids to keep up with demand making personal care a viable career path for workers who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 business shutdowns.

The Western Colorado Area Health Education Center (WCAHEC) has responded to the need for trained caregivers during the COVID-19 pandemic by increasing the number of personal care aid classes in Delta, Montrose and Mesa counties. In an effort to adhere to all social distancing recommendations, WCAHEC has transitioned its personal care aid class from a fully in-person program to a blended learning format. The pandemic has allowed WCAHEC to explore blended learning, which combines online teaching via the videoconferencing platform Zoom, with limited in person skills assessment and testing. The blended learning format is designed to help reduce the potential spread of COVID-19 by limiting the frequency and duration of contact between students and the instructor.

So far, two blended learning personal care aid classes have been held, one in April and a second in May, both with students from across the three counties. Students interacted with their instructor through Zoom to learn the personal care, CPR and medication administration lessons. They then convened with the instructor in small groups of no more than nine to certify their CPR skills and to take the Qualified Medication Administration Person (QMAP) test.

The new blended learning format has been a success. Zoom encourages conversation in a way that creates a safe space for classmates to build rapport with the instructor and camaraderie with one another. One student that was having anxiety about joining the in-person portion of the course said their feeling of dread disappeared after completing the online portion with her classmates. Another asset of the blended learning format is the increased computer knowledge that students develop during the course. Our patient instructor helped students familiarize themselves with email and was able to support students with the installation and use of Zoom. One student stated she felt this will help her be more comfortable with charting online when she works as a QMAP. One of the students that especially struggled a bit in the beginning with the computer sent the instructor an email after the class that stated, “Thank you for your time, caring, commitment to the PCA/QMAP course. I deeply appreciate your dedication and feel extremely fortunate to have been in this class. Thank you!”

WCAHEC is doing all we can to get unemployed persons trained up for new jobs in healthcare as certified nurse aids, personal care aids and qualified medication administration persons. We currently have a network of more than 25 facilities needing staff and training. In addition to the initial training we are able to put students to work immediately though our registered apprenticeships for CNA’s and PCA’s. If you are looking for a new career, please consider our programs. For more information visit their website or call 970-434-5474 x2.

Nicole Heil, Student Support Services Coordinator, Western Colorado Area Health Education Center

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