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The Times
  • County program having difficult time attracting, retaining nurses

  • Facing an inability to fill nursing positions, county officials are looking to make a decision on the future of a Public Health Department program that provides home health aides.

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  • Facing an inability to fill nursing positions, county officials are looking to make a decision on the future of a Public Health Department program that provides home health aides.
    County Administrator James Wallace said the nursing shortage is a result of county salaries not being competitive with the private sector, making it difficult to attract or retain certified nurses.
    But since the Certified Home Health Agency program requires registered nurses to oversee health aides, the county’s ability to continue providing the service is endangered.
    Wallace said the county is looking at maintaining the program at current levels, attempting to hire more nurses to assist with the program, selling the license to a private provider or moving the home aides to another program.
    Wallace referred requests for further details on the matter to Dr. Gregory O’Keefe, Public Health director.
    O’Keefe did not return multiple calls.
    The program currently employs 18 aides that provide in-home care to county residents, said JoAnne LeClair, president of the Civil Service Employees Association local unit representing county employees.
    In order for the program — which is not mandated like other public health programs — to operate, there needs to be at least one registered nurse overseeing the health aides. But as the number of nurses continues to drop, the ratio of nurses to aides in the program has caused difficulties.
    LeClair feels the registered nurse will be kept if the program is cut, but was less sure of the home aides’ future.
    “If the program doesn’t exist, it’s a great concern of what happens to the home aides and the residents,” she said.
    County officials have said the home aides could be retained and moved to another program, such as long-term care, according to LeClair.
    “They’re hopeful that no one has to lose a job,” she said, “but the information is still sketchy.”
    Union representatives believe the CHHA program issue is tied to the county entertaining proposals from Valley Health Services Inc., an affiliate of Bassett Healthcare, to take over Country Manor Adult Care, a county-run facility.
    “We see this as all related, Country Manor and the CHHA [program] are in this position because of mismanagement and neglect by the county,” LeClair said.
    The Public Health Department is down to eight full-time nurses, from a high of at least 40 in the early 1990s, according to LeClair.
    “The [officials] have known for a long time the county needs more nurses,” she added.

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