A unique request from Carroll Community College has won a $90,000 federal grant to provide home health aides with basic literacy and job skills.
The grant, one of 46 nationwide, is the only one to deal with health aides. It could be a national model, said Kathleen Menasche, director of career programs and community services at the college.
Health aides and companions get paid $5 to $6 an hour to sit
and talk with people who are sick or aging. They do some housework and cooking, remind their charges to take medicine, accompany them to doctor appointments.
But aides and companions also need to be able to read training manuals, follow directions written by a nurse and fill in records of their own.
"A companion job attracts this kind of person: You don't have to have a lot of skill, but you have to have a big heart," said Karen Feroli, branch director of Home Call, an agency that provides home health services. "We have had some people apply for this job who would be able to perform the companionship and support, but who have difficulty reading in reference to filling out an application or following our policy and procedures guidelines," she said.
"We've encouraged them to go to the local colleges and schools for that support, but that's not always financially feasible for them."
Elaine Smith, the college's project developer for workplace literacy, noticed the problem and and wrote the grant request with the health aide workers in mind. It qualified as one of 46 projects in 27 states to get a total of $18.3 million in U.S. Department of Education grants for workplace literacy.
Carroll will get about $90,000 this year, and the same amount in the next two years if it can show progress in the first year, Ms. Menasche said.
The grants are awarded to partnerships of business and education. The partnership Carroll Community College forged was with four home health agencies: Home Call, Carroll Hospice, First Call and Tri-Home Health Care & Services. All are based in or have branches in Westminster.
Jeannette Pasano, a nurse and program assistant at Carroll Hospice, said the grant also will provide workers with skills needed to advance in the home health field or to higher-paying jobs.
"This is probably going to be geared to women who did not finish high school or who have not been in the work force for the majority of their adult life," Ms. Pasano said.
Training could start in January for workers already with these agencies and new hires.
The curriculum will include reading and writing, math and communication skills, Ms. Menasche said. The curriculum is being designed and tailored to the home health care worker, and even the agencies where they work.
"When we're teaching reading, we're going to be using the training manuals of the companies," Ms. Menasche said. "We're not going to be using a textbook off a shelf somewhere."
She credits Ms. Smith with writing the grant proposal well enough to get it funded on the first try, which is unusual for the Department of Education, she said.
Ms. Pasano said Carroll Hospice is always getting requests for companions to people who are terminally ill.
For the hospice, the curriculum could help provide the companions with more training in how to interact with clients and their families, particularly with the grieving process, she said.
"We are constantly looking for more people," she said. "We are very pleased this is happening."