by Jason P. Smith
Eight health care professionals recently stood proud in front of friends, family and co-workers as they graduated from a licensed practical nurse program held at North Star Community, a Medicaid-based facility in Denver.
With tears welling up in people’s eyes, flashes firing and camcorders rolling, the graduates said a few brief words, received their certificates and got their pins from the director of nursing.
This program, although thorough, was different than many other LPN programs in the state. The Office of Workforce Development, along with facilities such as North Star, have worked to fund the education of CNAs who want to further their careers, but do not have the financial means to do so.
While working full-time and dealing with outside commitments, eight graduates made their way through the two-year program and graduated as LPNs. The graduates include: Erica Correa; Guadelupe Charez; Tomasa Gomez; Wanda Cox; Tracy Howden; Mike Snabel; Dawn Lund; and Veronica Garibay.
"It was hard, but it was well worth it," said Tracy Howden, one of the graduates. "I always wanted something better – I wanted to improve on what I do every day. I will still be able to do the care, but now I can do it a little better. I would never have been able to it without the grant money."
Darcy Brannigan, grants manager for the city general funds grants, was on hand to address the graduates at their ceremony. Brannigan was one of the key players in making this program a reality for the graduates.
"You will be great credits to the LPN society," Brannigan said to the graduating class. "I’m proud of you and proud to be associated with you – I know you’ll all be happy working as LPNs."
According to Brannigan, the Mayor’s Office started this program to help the working poor, which focused on CNAs. "CNAs go into their line of work for the love of the patients, not for the money," she said. "This helps them with their career and it also helps with the nursing shortage.
"The shortage in Colorado is dire and the nursing population here is not very diverse," Brannigan said. "Hopefully, we’ve been able to help by funding this program and help add some diversity to the profession."
According to Brannigan, North Star is the third facility to participate in the program, which has graduated almost 40 LPNs. "It is just phenomenal to see these nurses graduate – it’s another success," she said.
"There is a wait list at every LPN school right now, so we’re hoping this will offer another place for people to learn," Brannigan said. "This expands the training sites for nursing students."
The help with staffing could be immediately evident, according to Ann Kelly, director of nursing at North Star and also the instructor for most of the classes. "It was a good program and everyone was motivated to finish," Kelly said. "These graduates can function independently – they are ready for a job, and we’re hoping to hire some of them."
Although the program was tough, it seems the consensus would be that it was worth all the late nights studying. "I’ve been working here as a CNA for a while and was talked into doing it," Howden said. "The last thing you want to do is work full time and go to school full time, but it was definitely worth it – I’d do it all over again."