Four local nursing homes have decided to pay for a solution to their shared problem of a shortage of certified nurse aides and cover the cost of a South Louisiana Community College instructor to provide training.

Their investment means the training will be offered tuition-free to students, said Laurie Fontenot, SLCC dean of nursing, allied health and safety.

As part of the training, students will spend about three weeks in a classroom and then move on to their clinical training, which will be held at the participating nursing homes: Maison de Lafayette, Camelot of Broussard, Magnolia Estates and Amelia Manor. Licensed practical nurses and registered nurses on staff at the nursing homes will act as preceptors and supervise the students’ clinical training, which could help the nursing homes retain the students as employees, Fontenot said.

“This way, the students get an opportunity to have a clinical experience in a different facility, which, more often than not, will encourage and invite them to work for that particular facility,” she said.

Certified nurse assistants’ main role is to provide care for patients, said Theresa Portier, one of three unit managers at Amelia Manor.

“They help with feeding the residents or setting the resident up to feed themselves,” she said. “They help transfer the patients from bed to chair. They help with bathing and dressing.”

It’s a difficult job and turnover is a major issue, not only in Lafayette, but nationwide, said Joe McPherson, owner of Maison de Lafayette. The former state senator said the local consortium of nursing homes meets informally as needed to discuss local issues.

“This has been one of our hot-button issues,” McPherson said of the CNA shortage. “At any given time, we’re caught having an additional need for five to 10 CNAs.”

Fontenot said the college offers certified nurse assistant training as part of its practical nurse course. However, its current standalone nurse aide training programs are housed at the college’s campuses outside of Lafayette. She said part of the reason for the reduction in the training options is because the program is short — students can complete it within three months — so, students aren’t eligible for financial aid and have to pay for the program out of pocket.

McPherson said the lack of a program in Lafayette contributed to the shortage, and he appealed to SLCC to resurrect a CNA training program in Lafayette about a year ago.

“We’ve actually paid tuition to private schools, but found you’d train 10, and only one stays with you. That’s not cost-efficient,” McPherson said.

By the end of the month, the college hopes to begin the course, but its start is pending approval from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. The department’s approval is necessary for any type of CNA training program, Fontenot said.

The training is being offered as a noncredit course through the college’s continuing education program rather than its academic side because it was easier to set up the program that way for the nursing homes’ training needs, Fontenot said.

“It’s still accredited and the same coursework, so if a student trained through the consortium decides later they’d want to enroll in practical nursing or another program where there’s a nurse aide requirement and they have the work experience, we’d award them academic credit through some process,” Fontenot said.

She said the program can enroll up to 23 students. Students’ cost for the program includes uniforms and a TB test, and they must pass a background check. Students must be at least 16 years old to register.

For registration information, contact SLCC’s Continuing Education Department at (337) 373-5105.

“Our hope would be — based on the success of the program and faculty availability — that we would do this year-round,” Fontenot said.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.