“I think the students would be successful without us, but we provide the structure and resources to help them succeed,” said John Cruz, senior director of workforce initiatives at the New Jewish Home, who oversees the program.
Students generally must devote two afternoons after school every week and several weeks during the summer, said Cruz. The program curriculum, developed with Columbia University Teachers College, initially teaches students basics about patient privacy, Medicare/Medicaid and overcoming stereotypes about older people. By the time they’re seniors in high school, students can train as certified nursing assistants and work as paid interns supporting the residents on the days they spend at the facility.
As part of the program, students may also become certified in other jobs, including patient care technician, phlebotomist, EKG technician, and medical coding and billing staff.
The pandemic, however, changed things. The New Jewish Home in Manhattan was hit hard, with dozens of COVID-19 deaths at the 514-bed facility.
Since volunteers weren’t permitted inside the facility, the home instead hired many of them as part-time employees so they could continue to help seniors. This also gave students a chance to complete the clinical training portion of their certified nursing assistant coursework.
In addition to the program for high school students, the health system created a program in 2014 for people ages 18 to 24 who are unemployed and out of school, training them to become certified home health aides and nursing assistants. Nearly 200 have completed the program and the New Jewish Home has hired three-quarters of them, at a starting wage of $15 to $19 an hour.
Both programs are supported primarily by grants from foundations.
In February, the state announced that nursing homes could accept visitors again, following federal guidelines. But many nursing home residents still rely on virtual visits, and during the spring Jasmine spent her time helping them connect with their families and other loved ones by iPad or phone.
The isolation was hard on the residents, and students provided sorely missed company. Asked how the students helped her, resident Dominga Marquez, 78, said, “Just talk.”
“We are lonely,” said Marquez. “I have a lot of friends that used to come every week to visit but, with the pandemic, nobody came.”
Kennedy Johnson, 17, said helping seniors experience virtual visits with their families during the pandemic made him realize how much he takes for granted.
“With the pandemic and doing the virtual calls, seeing how these families don’t get to interact with their loved ones every day, that really opened my eyes,” he said.
Working at the New Jewish Home was the first time Kennedy had ever been in a nursing home or seen the kinds of work that 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 health care attorney so I can represent people … like this.”
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