Statewide– The state’s efforts to alleviate Colorado’s acute shortage of health care workers will provide tuition-free training to thousands of students and provide a much-needed boost to hospitals and clinics.

The Care Forward Colorado Program will invest $26 million in federal COVID stimulus funds into the program over two years to become a Certified Nursing Assistant, Emergency Medical Technician, Pharmacy Technician, Blood Collection Technician, Medical Assistant, or Dental Assistant. We guarantee free education to interested students.

The program, created through legislation endorsed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the last Congress and signed by Gov. Jared Polis, could reach more than 4,000 students.

Still, it’s far from filling the workforce gap in hospitals and health care systems.A 2021 report from human resources consulting firm Mercer says Colorado will have about 54,000 workers in low-wage health care jobs by 2026. But the new program is one way the state is working to close the workforce gap, especially in rural areas.

The program will be available in 19 community colleges and regional technical colleges, so it “covers every corner of the state,” said Angie Paccione, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education. . From this fall he will have free training available to students until 2024.

One of those schools is Trinidad State University, which has campuses in Trinidad and Alamosa.

Colleges train students as nursing assistants, dental assistants, medical assistants, and EMTs. The CareForward Colorado program will allow the university to expand its healthcare programs to better serve the needs of communities in Las Animas County, Huelfano County and the San Luis Valley, said Rhonda Epper, the university’s principal.

As a member of the board of directors of Mount San Rafael Hospital in Trinidad, Epper knows firsthand how much the local hospital hurts trained staff such as nursing aides and medical assistants.

“Vacancy numbers for all these jobs are increasing, and health care providers in our communities are struggling to fill these positions,” Epper said. We are trying to meet the needs of the force and produce as many professionals as possible, but we are limited by the number of students who come to us and the ability of our own workforce to train them.”

Her college is fortunately well-staffed across health care programs, but other colleges in the state are struggling to find faculty.

Trinidad State University has the capacity to handle a surge in new students if more enroll to take advantage of the new state’s programs. The school’s dental assistance program, for example, can accommodate up to 12 students, but he is prepared to double enrollment by conducting nightly cohorts when needed, he said. says Epper.

She noted that community colleges are the most agile when it comes to staffing programs because they can adjust the number of part-time instructors they hire based on enrollment numbers.

But as education grapples with its own workforce shortages, some community colleges may not be ready to accept more students.

“It’s hard to fill faculty positions in any of these areas, especially nursing,” Epper said.

The program has the potential to save hundreds or thousands of dollars depending on the student’s field, helping clinics that care for some of the state’s most vulnerable residents struggle to overcome staffing shortages. You will also be able to take advantage of a new pool of trained professionals when you are

(Editor’s Note: This story has been edited for length.)

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