By TIM O'NEIL
Nolana Culbreath worked the overnight shift at a warehouse in Cincinnati, packing orders and unpacking returns.
She heard on the radio that Mercy Health was enrolling students in a class to become state-tested nurse aides, the Ohio term for certified nursing assistants. Qualified graduates could get jobs at one of Mercy Health's facilities in the greater Cincinnati area.
Culbreath, 52, completed the inaugural class last fall and was hired by The Jewish Hospital — Mercy Health in Cincinnati. Nowadays, her job brings her satisfaction, not just an income.
Nursing aide Nolana Culbreath dons an isolation gown before entering a patient room at The Jewish Hospital – Mercy Health in Cincinnati.
"This is the right thing for me," she said. "I felt like I was stuck at the warehouse. Now I can make a difference in people's lives. I can involve myself in helping them, physically, mentally and emotionally."
Culbreath said she plans to enroll in courses to become a registered nurse. Another long-term goal of the Mercy Health program is to provide a career ladder.
Mercy Health covers the costs for the nurse aide training courses taught by instructors who are on the faculty of a community college. The classes are held in the quarters of the Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency, a partner of Mercy Health in the program. The building is in the city's Bond Hill area, a black-majority neighborhood in which nearly 70 percent of the households make less than $40,000 annually.
Bond Hill is the target neighborhood for the program, although enrollment is open to all. Culbreath once attended church in Bond Hill and has relatives living there, but she doesn't live there.
Her new job represents her return to health care. After high school, Culbreath obtained an associate's degree in medical administration and worked for a time in a medical office, a nursing home and a home-health service. But she left health care to care for her five children. Returning to the job force later in life, she worked at the warehouse for three years before enrolling in Mercy Health's nurse aide training.
Culbreath said she had considered getting back into health care for years, but the bustle and responsibilities of motherhood kept her from undertaking a program of retraining. She said Mercy Health's assistance and interest gave her the inspiration to act.
"I'm not saying it's impossible to go back to school, but this made it much more possible," Culbreath said. "It isn't just the funding and books. Mercy was there to receive me when I successfully completed the work."
She is one of three graduates of the first class who work at The Jewish Hospital.
Heidi Dodsworth, Mercy Health's system director of talent acquisition, said the nurse aide recruitment initiative has two main goals — offering lower-income people training in health care and creating a pool of qualified new hires for Mercy Health.
Students take 120 hours of classes over three months and must pass the Ohio certification test to be offered jobs at Mercy Health institutions. The community action agency that hosts the classes provides students with help in child care, transportation and overcoming other barriers to education. The agency also helps in recruiting, especially in its Bond Hill neighborhood.
To help the students fit the program into their daily responsibilities, they can take morning or evening classes.
The first cohort — the fall 2016 program from which Culbreath graduated — underscored some of the challenges of entry-level training. Most of the 28 students either didn't complete the work or failed the Ohio test. Dodsworth said many of the students appeared to understand the skills, but couldn't master the written portions of the state assessment.
Mercy Health and the community action agency have revised their recruiting methods to better screen for basic communication skills. Of 14 students in a later cohort, eight were considered for Mercy Health jobs.
Mira Smith, manager of career and job services for the community action agency, said the nurse assistant program blends the parallel missions of her agency and Mercy Health to provide opportunity for underserved populations. Smith said the agency already works with many people who can gain employment and career opportunity through Mercy Health.
"Mercy already is highly visible in this community," Smith said. "Its commitment to employ those who successfully complete the program is a clear motivator for people to see the end goal of a career."
Part of Mercy Health's commitment is a promise to give tuition reimbursements to nurse aides taking classes to qualify for registered nurse certification.
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