Delaware will streamline the training to become a certified nursing assistant to relieve understaffed hospitals and long-term care facilities in the wake of the latest COVID-19 surge.
Lawmakers on Wednesday approved legislation by Rep. David Bentz, a Christiana Democrat, giving the Department of Health and Social Services discretion over how long training and orientation should take for certified nursing assistants.
People looking to become certified nursing assistants would have to complete 75 classroom hours and 75 clinical hours before taking exams, according to Delaware law. But that requirement could be knocked down to the federal minimum of 75 classroom hours and 16 clinical hours.
The new policy will help Delaware respond more quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic and future public health emergencies, said Corinna Getchell, director of DHSS’ Division of Health Care Quality.
Getchell did not provide an estimate of how many certified nursing assistants they hope to gain through the expedited program.
"Right now, we just need people in the facilities," she said. "They not only need CNAs, they need nurses. An exact number would be hard to give, but they definitely need more."
The bill also makes permanent a temporary emergency order that Gov. John Carney issued on Jan. 3. It creates a "rapid" certification of National Guard members to become certified nursing assistants by letting DHSS decide how much training and orientation hours they go through.
Right now, under Carney's emergency order, Guard members must complete the federal minimum requirement of 75 classroom hours and 16 clinical hours to become certified.
Eighty-four guard members have completed the classroom and clinical hours and are taking their exams, according to Getchell.
"We're hoping to get them out to the facilities as soon as possible," she said. "Hopefully within the next few days even."
The Guard member certification program, modeled after a Minnesota initiative, is done through Delaware Technical Community College in Dover. Once Guard members are done with their exams, they will be deployed as temporary staff in long-term care facilities suffering from staffing shortages.
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On top of relieving staffing shortages, training and deploying National Guard members as nurse assistants helps facilitate the transfer of patients out of hospitals to free up in-patient bed space, reads an official summary of the bill.
The state hopes to deploy newly certified nursing assistants to long-term care facilities where patients don't need to be hospitalized but still need care.
Staffing shortages at those facilities lower the number of patients each facility can house, according to Delaware Healthcare Association President Wayne Smith. As a result, patients are boarded in hospital hallways and common areas, he said.
"For all patients, both COVID and non-COVID patients, the ability to return to a more normal patient flow from hospitals to long term care will mean more patients will receive care in a room located in appropriate care setting," Smith wrote in an email.
The House passed the bill late last week before the Senate passed it on Wednesday afternoon. The bill awaits Gov. John Carney's signature.
COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have reached all-time highs due to the highly contagious omicron variant. Hospitalizations appear to be waning slightly. The state reported 667 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Tuesday compared with 746 the week before.
Sarah Gamard covers government and politics for Delaware Online/The News Journal. Reach her at (302) 324-2281 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @SarahGamard.
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Omicron prompts Delaware to shorten nursing certification requirement