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News / Business / Clark County Business

Workforce Southwest Washington helps train, retain health care workers

Organization's efforts focus on long-term care

By Sarah Wolf, Columbian staff writer
Published: July 18, 2023, 7:25pm
4 Photos
Employment Security Department Commissioner Cami Feek, left, and Workforce Southwest Washington Director of Communications Julia Maglione, right, look around a room during a Workforce Southwest Washington tour of The Inn at University Village assisted living facility.
Employment Security Department Commissioner Cami Feek, left, and Workforce Southwest Washington Director of Communications Julia Maglione, right, look around a room during a Workforce Southwest Washington tour of The Inn at University Village assisted living facility. (Photos by Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

There are chronic employee shortages in the region’s health care system. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the area’s long-term care facilities. It’s a hurdle that Workforce Southwest Washington is working to overcome.

Those efforts were on display Tuesday as the organization held a roundtable discussion with local lawmakers and their staffs. The organization gathered folks from as far away as Olympia, including Cami Feek, commissioner of Washington’s Employment Security Department.

“What we do here at (Workforce Southwest Washington) is pretty transformational,” said Miriam Halliday, CEO at Workforce Southwest Washington. The organization organizes trainings for local industries and convenes workforce players to ensure the area has quality employment.

“Our main outcome is people in good jobs,” she added.

The organization answered questions about what their efforts to train and retain staff in the local health care industry look like and if they’re succeeding.

“There’s a lot of folks that are in need of a better job,” said Halliday. “They want a different job. They want to skill up and go into a different job. So I think it’s incumbent upon us, as local workforce development professionals, to find them and to make it very easy and clear for them to do that.”

The group works with businesses, looking at workforce development from both the supply and demand perspectives.

As the day progressed, the roundtable turned into a tour of a soon-to-be-opened assisted living facility in Salmon Creek, The Inn at University Village by Olympia-based Koelsch Communities.

Sean Moore, senior project manager for health care and technology for Workforce Southwest Washington, pointed to Koelsch Communities as one of its business partners that has worked creatively with the organization to train and retain staff members.

Benjamin Surmi, director of people and culture at Koelsch, came up with the idea of introducing a niche training workshop for caregivers. The workshop was born in Europe and works with long-term caregivers to overcome the challenges they face in providing care that can be extremely difficult.

“This is one reason why people walk out on the first day,” said Surmi. “This industry triages people who have great heart; but in CNA class, they don’t really teach you the full weight of what you’re going to face when you walk into someone’s apartment.”

With help from Moore at Workforce Southwest Washington, Surmi was able to bring in an English-speaking trainer from Europe to train some of the company’s staff on the caregiving method.

Surmi said the training was extremely effective. He recounted numerous stories of staff members that had wanted to quit being long-term caregivers only to be reinvigorated by the four-day workshop.

Koelsch wasn’t the only company to praise their relationship with Workforce Southwest Washington. Valerie Meister from Vancouver Clinic talked about the trainings and apprenticeship programs that Workforce Southwest Washington put into place to help with employee shortages at the clinic level.

Surmi talked positively about the successes that his company’s relationship with Workforce Southwest Washington has had. The caregiver training will be huge for workforce retention, he added. As will the organization’s Quality Jobs Initiative, laying out minimum employer requirements for employees to have what the organization calls livable jobs.

“That’s going to play a key role in this state in getting people to stay in health care,” said Surmi.

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