AISD will launch Certified Nurse Assistant program thanks to regional hospital district grant

ALPINE — Alpine ISD will launch a Certified Nurse Assistant program within Alpine High School, thanks in part to a grant from the Big Bend Regional Hospital District. The district recently announced a handful of grants for their upcoming fiscal year, and both the school and hospital districts expressed excitement at the prospect of adding more healthcare education options to the region.

Beginning August 2022, the high school will add Nursing Science as a new “endorsement” within their Career and Technical Education (CTE) program. Students who pursue that path will have an opportunity to receive an Industry Based Certification, be prepared to take the Texas Nurse Aide exam and then can enter the workforce as a CNA or opt to continue their education in a Bachelor of Science nursing program.

To get the program off the ground, AISD will be using the grant funds to purchase medical equipment and hire a teacher that’s fully dedicated to the program. The investment in the school will give students practical experience working with things they’ll need to use in the career field.

The hospital district grant is a total of $89,920 over two years, and the school has already established a sustainability plan to keep the program running and the salary funded after the grant funds have been spent.

“The hospital district every year budgets some money towards community grants and Alpine ISD’s grant proposal was part of that annual process to award annual moneys to the community,” said BBRHD Executive Director JD Newsom. The district submitted an application like other grant-seekers and was approved by the hospital district board.

Newsom was excited about the project, saying, “It’s a unique program that I hope will help with some long term solutions to really generate some home grown workforce for medical providers.” Finding sufficient medical staffing has been difficult in rural areas in recent years, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the need for qualified employees willing to work in remote areas like the Big Bend region.

“We’re very grateful for the support of the BBRHD, and we’re excited about how this can help our community at large,” said AISD Superintendent Becky McCutchen.

While grants from the hospital district are often used to fund ambulances and medical equipment for healthcare providers in the area, Newsom said this project supports the BBRHD mission in a different way. “The hospital district does focus on indigent healthcare, but we do have a mandate to ensure there’s a hospital system and access to medical care for our county residents in general,” he said.

Superintendent McCutchen said the district has been pursuing a CNA program for a couple years, because it fits with their CTE program, but also because “there’s such a big need for students to enter into the medical field, and we’re trying to help fill that need.” She said, “It’s not just in our area, it’s a nationwide need for nurses. If we can fill in at the lower level, they can enter into a BSN and LVN or RN program.”

Along with the AISD program, BBRHD’s board approved grants for a variety of other expenditures. In another effort to help educate and train a local workforce, $21,845 will go to Sul Ross State University’s fledgling nursing program so that they can purchase equipment for a new simulation lab.

“The long term goal with that simulation lab is that it will be primarily used to train those nursing students, but Sul Ross hopes and intends to open that simulation lab to EMS providers and other healthcare workers that need that extra training with the simulation equipment they’ll be purchasing,” Newsom explained.

McCutchen has already reached out to Sul Ross to talk about how their programs can interact with one another. “Our ultimate hope is that our students will graduate high school as a CNA and move into the higher ed realm, even at Sul Ross, which has started their [nursing] program,” the superintendent said. “If there’s some classes we can share, either our teacher with Sul Ross or their’s with us, we’re always open to working with Sul Ross.” The university already has a dual credit agreement with AISD, making the connection even easier.

In other grants by BBRHD this fiscal year, the city of Marfa will receive $73,000 toward a new ambulance. Terlingua Consolidated School District will have $1,025 to spend on getting a doctor to visit the area to provide physicals for all students wanting to participate in sports. $12,000 will go to Sunshine House so they can purchase wheelchairs, shower stools and other pieces of medical equipment for the elderly individuals they serve. Lastly, $10,000 will go to the Big Bend Citizens Alliance in Terlingua for an emergency medical fund for Terlingua residents that need help getting to the doctor. Newsom added, “I think the coolest one is for Alpine ISD. I think we’re very excited to see how that goes.”

“One of the biggest issues we have right now is having enough workforce to provide medical care, whether it’s a doctor, nurse or certified nursing aide,” said Newsom. “This is a piece of the puzzle I think that really works to provide that long term sustainability for provision of healthcare.”