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County Perspective: Ramsey County introduces new nurse training program

by Rafael Ortega, Columnist

Ramsey County Commissioner, District 5

In late April, I chaired a workshop where we learned about an innovative new program called the Public Health Career Pathways (PHCP) Program and I want to share it with you. Ramsey County created this program with American Rescue Plan dollars, and you will see that it would be hard to target those dollars more wisely to address the immediate health emergency that COVID represented and to address the long term needs of our county. In fact, President Biden himself recognized this program by name at a recent National Association of Counties (NACO) meeting.
We are training current county health employees so they can become Community Health Workers and Registered Nurses.
We pursued this project for three reasons:
The US and Minnesota Public Health workforce infrastructure is declining. Baby boomers are retiring from nursing. Many nurses of all ages are leaving the profession because of stress and burnout. This is a crisis and we need to address it.
We also need to address the racial and health disparities in our community. No matter what measurement you use, the differences in health outcomes for white people and people of color are staggering. In Ramsey County, infant and maternal mortality rates are highest in the Native American and African American communities. During the worst days of COVID, we struggled because we didn’t have enough outreach workers from several of our ethnic communities. 
We need to lift motivated Ramsey County employees at the bottom of the career ladder up out of poverty.

Differences in Education and Professional Achievement
We have a diverse health workforce, but the diversity is not evenly spread through our different professions. Most of our employees of color are Nursing Assistants or Home Health Aides, while very few are Community Health Workers and Registered Nurses which require more education and open up opportunities for considerably more pay.

How It Works
The Registered Nurse Pathway leads to a Bachelor’s in Science Nursing Degree (BSN). Community Health Worker students receive the Community Health Worker (CHW) Certificate, which is an on-ramp to other health professions. 
All participants work a reduced schedule which provides them time to study and complete coursework. A wage supplement is provided to cover the hours participants would normally work. The wage supplement is the game changer that allows employees to get the education they need to advance without having to sacrifice the dollars they need to feed their families.
This fall, Nursing Students got a GPA of 3.67 while the CHW Cohort excelled with a 3.9 GPA. CHW students who complete the program must stay for 1 year. Registered Nurses must stay for 3 years. 

For LaSherion McDonald, on the RN track, this was the answer to her prayers. When she took a job with the county, she thought she’d never get her nursing degree. For Hlea Her, she can keep caring for her 5 children, complete the degree and be reenergized about life. For the University of St Catherine, who is our education partner, this achieves key goals for them.
We plan to expand the Public Health Career Pathways (PHCP) Program in the coming years and I’m glad.

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