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Moving Mountains

CNA program means career advancement, better life for two former home care workers

For Laura Garcia and Elizabeth Sanchez, moving mountains is a matter of will.

The two nursing home workers are being recognized for completing all of the requirements of the SEIU 2015 Education Fund’s Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program. They accomplished this while working one full time, or two part-time jobs, as well as going to class during weekends for several months.

The Education Fund — through funding from the Employment Training Panel (ETP) — paid for their training toward certification. Garcia and Sanchez just finished the required 500 work hours at their current facility, Huntington Park Nursing Center – Covenant Care.

Certified Nursing Assistants Elizabeth Sanchez and Laura Garcia at Huntington Park Nursing Center – Covenant Care.

“I worked many hours and had to give up plenty of time with my family, but it paid off,” said Laura Garcia, a former In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) home care worker. “I wanted a better career and better life for my family and this has helped me prepare for my future.”

The Education Fund established the CNA program to address a statewide shortage and retention of CNAs at nursing homes. The Fund is a joint effort between employers and SEIU Local 2015 to provide additional training and career pathways to workers through building skills and earning industry-recognized certificates. Aside from a reimbursable down payment, the CNA program is completely free for students.

Marthen Lumingkewas, Executive Director at Huntington Park Nursing Center – Covenant Care, said the Education Fund’s training is a critical part of setting a high standard for both patient care and CNA job satisfaction.

“Being a caregiver is not an easy job,” said Lumingkewas, whose own parents worked as nursing assistants and would often bring their child to work. “It’s more of a calling. You have to have compassionate care, be patient, listen, be a therapist, be an advocate. A program like this is critical because it could be a mirror, something people could see that could be duplicated.”

Their training is already making a difference, according to Lumingkewas. “I’ve only heard good things (about Laura and Elizabeth). They’re confident in their job ability and duties,” he said. “If you want staff competency, retention and confidence in their ability to do their job, I think programs such as this are very critical. It’s a blessing not just for one person, it can affect others, too.””

Most workers who have participated in the Education Fund’s CNA program previously worked in nursing homes as kitchen aides, in housekeeping or in activities, or — like Garcia and Sanchez — as home care workers. They undergo several months of intensive training, then have to pass the state exam. After they get their certification, students need to complete 500 hours working as a CNA at their current facility as part of the program requirements.

The expectation around the Fund’s CNA program is for SEIU 2015 bargaining unit members to “graduate and be hired, preferably by the facility where they work. But this is also an avenue for them to grow and to improve their lives,” said Ericka Ochoa, SEIU 2015 Region 1 Coordinator for Huntington Park Nursing Center – Covenant Care. “With quality training, we can make sure that CNAs are respected by society and their employers.”

Garcia and Sanchez have done it all. Both say it wasn’t easy, but the support they received from the union and the Education Fund staff have made a difference.

“I always like to see the glass half-full than half-empty and it helps me see that I’m almost to the end,” Garcia said. “The classes made me more aware and gave me more knowledge on how to treat my patients.”

The struggle to complete training and certification fuels both women’s dreams. For Garcia, it is to continue giving 100 percent effort to help her patients. She is also driven to inspire her four children.

“What I love most about my job is when patients tell me I’m doing great,” Garcia said. “The most challenging part is thinking I won’t complete my assignment for the day.”

Both women said they are grateful the Ed Fund helped empower them. The Fund and its team pushed them to work even harder to make their piece of the American dream a matter of fact.

“This was a terrific program and changed my life for the better,” Garcia said.

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