A patient care assistant treats a patient in a hospital.

By: Peggy Sease, VP of Human Resources for DCH Health System

DCH Health System employs over 4,000 people, but in recent years, we’ve found difficulty hiring our frontline caregivers – patient care assistants (PCA). PCAs are crucial in helping a hospital operate, as they check vital signs, chart changes in health and behavior and provide assistance to doctors, nurses and allied health professionals.

Like many frontline workers, turnover is traditionally high for PCAs, patient care technologists (PCTs) and certified nursing assistants (CNAs). PCAs, PCTs and CNAs perform many of the same tasks, and the job titles are used interchangeably at many healthcare facilities. In 2018, CNAs had a 27.7 percent turnover rate, and PCTs had a 19.3 percent turnover rate, according to the National Healthcare Retention & RN Staffing Report. Industry experts estimate the average cost of turnover in healthcare is approximately $60,000. The financial hit is coupled by diminished patient care, another effect of high turnover.  

We turned to our Regional Workforce Council, West Alabama Works, to help us create a strategic plan to combat PCA turnover. Through brainstorming sessions with the WAW team, our HR staff and our nursing team leaders, we developed the PCA Pathway. This program decreases turnover by creating a pathway for upward mobility in the healthcare field, drawing from the vision of SuccessPlus+.

Through a partnership with West Alabama Works, Shelton State Community College and Tuscaloosa City Schools, we are recruiting recent high school graduates who are interested in pursuing a career in the healthcare industry, but don’t have the credentials required to immediately enter a career path like nursing. These students train in Ready-to-Work with Shelton State Community College. Alabama’s Ready-to-Work program, operated by the Alabama Community College System in cooperation with AIDT, provides a career pathway for individuals with limited education and employment experience.

These students then enter on-the-job PCA training with DCH, and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) dollars are being used to fund the training with Shelton State Community College. We are working with the Tuscaloosa Area Career Center to potentially enroll our younger program participants in Work-Based Learning. WBL is funded by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and allows out-of-school youth to receive on-the-job training, all while reimbursing the employer for their salaries.

We currently use WIOA funding to reimburse salaries for several employees, including floor care and housekeeping staff at DCH Regional Medical Center and certified nursing assistants and food service workers at our nursing home at Fayette Medical Center. WIOA works, and it’s a vital resource for employers to expand staff and save funds during difficult financial times. If you’re an employer, I highly recommend partnering with your area career center and Regional Workforce Council to learn more about how you can benefit from WIOA funding.

We envision our pathway participants eventually returning to school to become licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and/or registered nurses (RNs), which is what SuccessPlus+ is all about. Education and training are like an interstate highway with multiple entrance and exit points, helping individuals receive stackable credentials for success. We also plan to use WIOA funding to help future program participants attend nursing school. Individual Training Accounts (ITAs) fund in-demand career paths, such as nursing, for those who are WIOA eligible.

Through the power of partnerships, we’re working to end our PCA shortage, which will lead to better care for our patients and a stronger environment for our employees. The greatest benefit, though, is providing a path to success for youth who currently don’t have a plan for a career or cannot afford training to earn a career. The PCA Pathway helps employers like us meet our community’s needs, while making West Alabama stronger by providing our young people an opportunity for success.

If you or someone you know is interested in pursuing a career in healthcare, contact Shelton State Community College to learn more about their new patient care technologist program. Launching in October, this integrated program meets necessary requirements to take the National Healthcareer Association (NHA) – Certified Patient Care Technician (CPCT Exam); the Certified Nurse Technician (CNT) Exam; and/or the Certified Patient Care Associate (CPCA) Exam. For details, email [email protected].