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The Health Support Specialist (HSS) program elevated the status of caregivers and changed the way we serve.

The aging services workforce faces significant challenges. It’s hard to start thinking about investment and big picture goals when you’re dealing with staffing shortages, constant turnover, competing with other local employers and searching for ways to recruit new team members.

But strengthening dedicated team members wasn’t a back-burner priority; it was a necessity for our sponsor sites, who believed a strong workforce is the foundation of progress, the muscle that shapes the quality of life for people in your community, and the source of ideas and innovation to make the organization better.

Don’t lose sight of the forest getting lost in the trees. Here’s how HSS tried to help:

Challenge

Solution

Serving more clinically complex people

HSS included college curriculum that taught how to care for people holistically, with instruction in culinary care, memory care, environmental services, activities, physiological and psychosocial care. Relevant, on-the-job training requires staff to bring that knowledge into their organization and apply it.

Lack of commitment from caregivers

1-2 years = 2,500 hours + 7 courses

Apprentices must be committed in order to succeed and receive wage increases. HSS attracted dedicated individuals who wanted to stay in older adult services and commit to a career in this field.

Too many silos

HSS attempted to break down silos by training individuals in every area of resident care. Apprentices crossed department lines to understand every aspect of the needs of older adults and are equipped to make better decisions.

Spending money on team members can be risky

HSS was $1,710 per apprentice, which is, most likely, less than what providers were spending on turnover each year. HSS was an investment, requiring the right people, the right coaching and a strong vision.

The DHS Nursing Facility Employee Scholarship Program will cover the entire cost of the program. As did the MDH HCBS Grant Program and the DOLI PIPELINE grants.

How Did it Work?

Each organization is unique. We understood that. It’s why our Transformation Coaches worked with providers one-on-one to develop an implementation plan.

To get started providers:

  1. Contacted us to set up a meeting with their leadership team to discuss the program
  2. Signed the Health Support Specialist Standards of Apprenticeship
  3. Worked with an assigned Transformation Coach to create an effective implementation plan and recruit apprentices for next semester
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Site Orientation

Once signed up as an HSS Sponsor Site, organizations received a Transformation Coach and Site Orientation Guide. Coaches walked through the guide, helped create a customized implementation plan and answered questions.

Download the Site Orientation Guide

Transformation Coaches

(2012 – 2019)

Sandy Bensen has enjoyed a rich career in healthcare, spanning from 1968 to the present and includes experience in acute care, older adult services and homecare/hospice. Positions held include the areas of direct care, education, nursing administration, senior executive administration and transformational leadership.

As VP of Senior & Community Services with North Country Health Services (Sanford Health), Bemidji, MN, Sandra provided leadership in strategic initiatives, which culminated in the building of a multi services senior campus, designed and operated in the Household/Person Directed model.

Sandra is a Registered Nurse and a Nursing Home Administrator. Earned degrees include BSN (Winona State University) and MBA (University of St Thomas).

Marilyn Oelfke is a registered nurse with more than 40 years of experience in a variety of settings, the majority of which has been in nursing administration. She retired in 2013 from Perham Living where she served as Senior Director of LTC Services (included role of Director of Nursing) for 24 years. Since that time she has been working part time as a Nursing Consultant with Action Pact of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and as a HSS Consultant for LeadingAge Minnesota.

Marilyn’s passion to transform the LTC facility into a home for the residents led her and the staff of Perham Living on a 12 year journey into deep culture change. She was directly involved in the conversion of a 96 bed facility from a medical model to the household model of care and in the planning and completion of a multi-million dollar rebuild and remodel of the existing 1970’s facility.

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What About Cost?

The cost of the entire HSS program for one apprentice was $1,710 ($190 per credit). Eligible organizations were able to cover the entire cost through various state grant and scholarship programs.

In addition to tuition, organizations were also required to identify a starting apprentice wage, at least one intermediary wage and a journeyworker wage for when apprentices complete the program. This matrix was customized and unique to each organization and designed with the Minnesota Department of Labor before signing the HSS Standards.

Program Staff

Adam Suomala, Vice President of Membership and Strategic Affilations

Jenna Kellerman, Director of Workforces Solutions

Laura Lutgens, HSS Program Director

Janette Davis, HSS Program Manager

Sally Nadean, HSS Communications Manager

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Resources

Download the brochure: Becoming an HSS Sponsor Site

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Sample job descriptions:

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Sample wage documents:

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