The College of Southern Maryland’s (CSM) Continuing Education and Workforce Development team and the St. Mary’s County Nursing Center (SMNC) are celebrating their three-year partnership that outlasted the crisis that inspired it.
As COVID-19 was spreading across the country in 2020, CSM and SMNC collaborated to create solutions that upskilled SMNC staff, created a solid workforce pipeline for the center, and produced student-employees who continue to provide focused patient care.
SMNC began hiring entry-level employees as Residential Care Assistants (RCAs), who were trained to perform many tasks of a Geriatric Nursing Assistant (GNA). While working as RCAs, employees were also students in CSM’s GNA program with support from CSM’s Workforce Development Sequence Scholarship. With the scholarship, student-employees were compensated to study, attend class, and receive mentoring to hone their skills in the classroom and in the workforce.
The program has helped eliminate the barriers students face and encouraged their success with mentoring, said Kelly Winters, executive director of workforce development for CSM. The partnership has been a huge success for nursing home residents, too; having staff on hand to do everything from handing out ice water to helping paint residents’ fingernails has a compounding effect on health and happiness.
For CSM Alumna Olivia Ayres ’22, the program was a lifeline. The single mother of three from Callaway said she was struggling when she first arrived in Sharon Nicholson’s office. Within an afternoon, Nicholson had helped her secure public assistance, including funds for rent and childcare, and created the stability she needed for her educational journey. Ayres recently completed the GNA program and is now working toward her goal of becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse and a Registered Nurse.
The partnership, with its emphasis on working with local stakeholders to creatively solve problems and meet the needs of the local workforce, is a model for the kind of role CSM strives to play in the community.
“I would have not been able to do this on my own,” Ayres said. “There is always a light at the end of the tunnel and for me, and for my children, this was that light.”