Teen volunteers step up to nursing home careers

Jasmine De Moya, 17, has dreamed for years of working in the medical field, and she yearned to spend time with elderly people, missing her grandparents, who live in the Dominican Republic. A program sponsored by the New Jewish Home Health System in New York City that combines volunteering with free training for entry-level health jobs, career coaching and assistance with college preparation helps bring life to life. his hopes.

Over the past three years, Jasmine has learned a lot about caring for the elderly, the importance of speaking slowly and being gentle with frail residents who may have difficulty hearing or understanding how to live. brush or wash teeth.

“We first trained with models, so when we [worked on residents] I was in shock, “she said.” Cleaning up a body and its private spaces, I didn’t expect to do it. But then I got used to it.

Last summer, Jasmine trained as a certified practical nurse. She has also researched and applied for student and college loans with the help of an organization the Geriatric Career Development Program offers to volunteers like her. After graduating from high school last month, Jasmine will begin nursing school at Lehman College in the Bronx in the fall. She will be the first in her family to attend university.

Since its launch in 2006, the Geriatric Career Development Program has helped over 700 high school students from 10 underserved schools in New York City gain hands-on experience in geriatric care at the New Jewish Home in Manhattan and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Gardens senior. residence in the Bronx. Ninety-nine percent of program participants graduate from high school, and over 150 have attended university.

The benefits of the program are also evident for the New Jewish Home, which operates two nursing homes, senior residences and assisted living facilities, and a home care business in the New York City area. By familiarizing young people with careers in geriatric care, the system aims to meet its growing need for workers as the wave of baby boomers enter their final years.

Six of the 10 fastest growing jobs in the decade leading up to 2029 are expected to be in health care, including home helpers and personal care aides, according to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“One of our biggest challenges is that there aren’t enough people who want to work in this industry,” said Dr. Jeffrey Farber, president and CEO of the New Jewish Home system. “People don’t want to work with older people. “

The New Jewish Home began its career development program for teens 15 years ago with the idea of ​​training and hiring them as practical nurses, Farber said.

But it became more than that. By working a few afternoons a week for three years with older people, students learn about aging and develop relationships with residents, some of whom are referred to as mentors. It also helps students determine their career goals and put the pieces in place to achieve them.

“I think students would be successful without us, but we provide the structure and resources to help them be successful,” said John Cruz, senior director of workforce initiatives at New Jewish Home, who oversees the program.

Students typically have to devote two afternoons after school each week and several weeks during the summer, Cruz said. The program’s curriculum, developed with Columbia University Teachers College, initially teaches students the basics of Patient Privacy, Medicare / Medicaid, and overcoming stereotypes about the elderly. By the time they graduate from high school, students can take training as certified practical nurses and work as paid interns to help residents during the days they spend at the facility.

As part of the program, students can also become certified in other jobs, including patient care technician, phlebotomist, ECG technician, and medical coding and billing staff.

The pandemic has changed things, however. Manhattan’s New Jewish Home has been hit hard, with dozens of deaths from covid at the 514-bed facility.

As volunteers were not allowed inside the facility, the house instead hired many of them as part-time employees so that they could continue to help the elderly. It also gave students the chance to complete the clinical training portion of their certified nursing assistant courses.

Dominga Marquez, a resident of the New Jewish Home seniors’ residence, says the forced isolation by the covid pandemic has been difficult. Having student volunteers to talk to helped, she says. (Michelle Andrews / KHN)

In addition to the program for high school students, the health system in 2014 created a program for people aged 18 to 24 who are unemployed and out of school, training them to become home health aides and certified nursing assistants. . Almost 200 completed the program, and the New Jewish Home hired three-quarters of them, starting at $ 15 to $ 19 an hour.

Both programs are funded primarily by foundation grants.

In February, the state announced that nursing homes could once again accept visitors, in accordance with federal guidelines. But many nursing home residents still depend on virtual tours, and in the spring, Jasmine spent her time helping them connect with family and loved ones via iPad or phone.

The isolation was hard on the residents, and the students provided the company they sorely needed. When asked how the students had helped her, resident Dominga Marquez, 78, replied, “Just talk.”

“We are alone,” Marquez said. “I have a lot of friends who came every week to visit but, with the pandemic, no one has come.”

Kennedy Johnson, 17, said helping older people go on virtual tours with their families during the pandemic made him realize how much he takes for granted.

“With the pandemic and virtual calling, seeing how these families don’t interact with their loved ones every day, it really opened my eyes,” he said.

Working at the New Jewish Home was Kennedy’s first time to visit a nursing home or see the kind of work staff members do.

In the fall, he will start at Morehouse College in Atlanta and plans to major in political science. His goal: “I want to be a healthcare lawyer so I can represent people… like that. “

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