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Teaching 21st century health care

2 local organizations receive state grants to develop new training programs for employees

GREENFIELD — Greenfield Community College and Clinical and Support Options will be working this spring to figure out how to equip workers with a new range of skills demanded in the ever-changing health care landscape.

The state awarded nearly $2 million in planning grants last week to health organizations and educational institutions across Massachusetts. It’s the first step of a larger $20 million effort to get the industry equipped to handle the new demands of state health care reform — all with the overall goal of saving money.

Both grants are for planning purposes only. The organizations will apply this summer for another round of funding that would allow them to implement their projects.

GCC will use its nearly $28,000 grant to look at how to improve options for students, both through academic programs and community education courses, interested in becoming certified nursing assistants.

The college, which has built courses in this field in the past, is working with four health organizations — Baystate Franklin Medical Center, Charlene Manor Extended Care Facility, Community Health Center of Franklin County and Farren Care Center — to determine what skills they are looking for in employees.

They’ll be joined at the table for three planning meetings this spring with the Center for New Americans, the Literacy Project, the Franklin Hampshire Career Center and the Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board.

GCC is one of only a few community colleges in the state that does not offer a certified nursing assistant program for credit, said Robert Barba, dean of community education. By creating a course or certificate program, students could potentially be able to use those credentials to move on to a licensed practical nursing program, earn an associate’s degree in nursing and, through a partnership with Endicott College, then earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing on campus.

In the same way, GCC’s various community education health care programs could also be better streamlined into a career pathway, said Barba.

Clinical and Support Options — a western Massachusetts behavioral health organization with several offices, including one in Greenfield — will use a grant of just over $49,000 to develop a program to train their workers in physical health treatment.

There are programs out there that teach primary care and physical health care workers how to deal with behavioral issues, but the opposite doesn’t exist or isn’t readily available, said CEO Karin Jeffers.

This is important, she said, because many of the organization’s clients have general health issues like chronic pain, diabetes and high blood pressure. Staff should be health literate, know how to reach out to primary care offices and ensure clients are getting the care they need, she said.

The organization will work with the Baystate Health system, the parent of Baystate Franklin Medical Center, to first assess what employees already know. Then it will develop an outline for the health literacy program and create a plan for how to train the organization’s 500 employees.

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