In hospitals in Johnson County and across the nation, the need for nurses has never been higher.

According to the American Nursing Association, the nursing shortage is expected to reach 1.1 million this year. About two-thirds of hospitals throughout United States have more than 7% of its nursing staff vacant, the association said.

Not enough students are entering programs to meet the demand, and in some cases, schools don’t have the facilities and programs to teach potential students.

A new local partnership has come together to address that need.

Johnson Memorial Health is teaming up with Ivy Tech Community College in Franklin to provide a unique opportunity for students interested in nursing. The program will provide training and immediate employment for certified nursing assistants, or CNAs, vital health care workers who provide basic care to patients and assist them in daily activities.

“Our certified nursing assistants are an essential part of patient care. We have a need for these employees and believe that offering a paycheck and tuition assistance is an excellent way to attract them to Johnson Memorial Health,” said Dr. David Dunkle, Johnson Memorial Health president and CEO.

Johnson Memorial Health plans to hire 10 people to work as CNAs and pay for their 12-week certification training through Ivy Tech’s Franklin campus. In return, the participants must commit to working for hospital for at least one year as a patient care technician.

“I think how amazing it would be to look at these people two, three, four years down the road and have them be registered nurses, who were part of the community, we showed them the path and they took the initiative to get it done,” said Anne-Marie Schenk, chief nursing officer at Johnson Memorial Health. “That would make all of us so proud.”

Johnson Memorial Health has already been working with Ivy Tech and its nursing students. Those enrolled in the nursing program have started coming in one day a week to assist the hospital’s medical staff on rounds and with other assignments.

They help put together medication for patients, take temperatures and other measurements and get a sense of what the nursing profession is all about.

“Of course, there’s a nursing shortage, as you know, so it’s nice to get these students up here and in a hospital setting,” said David Himes, instructor at Ivy Tech. “They get that real-world experience being up here.”

The new certified nursing assistants program expands on those opportunities. Hospital officials had seen how the nursing shortage, which has been building for years, was only exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The wear and tear of the pandemic over the last few years, not just here but in businesses across the community, state, country, have had an increasingly difficult time recruiting staff,” Schenk said. “One of the areas we had a difficult time recruiting was in our CNA group.”

Because so many hospitals and health care facilities were facing the same issue, competition for those workers was fierce, Schenk said.

Officials at Johnson Memorial Health started brainstorming ideas on how to set themselves apart and recruit those vital workers. They realized that money available within the Johnson Memorial Hospital Foundation, an organization with a goal to raise charitable funds to benefit Johnson Memorial Hospital in improving the health of the community, for nursing education.

“We thought, instead of doing a sign-on bonus or some of those traditional programs, how about we reach out to Ivy Tech in Franklin, because they’re part of our community, and see if they’d sign off on some kind of program,” Schenk said.

The move is a shift from how the hospital normally recruited CNAs.

“Before, we always looked for people who took these roles to have experience. Someone had the bright idea, maybe we grow our own,” Schenk said. “The people with experience, there aren’t enough of them out there, so how do we fill that gap.”

Johnson Memorial Health and Ivy Tech have been working on the details and logistics of the program for the past six months. Ivy Tech will open up 10 seats in a CNA program starting in August. At the same time, Johnson Memorial Health has been working on hiring people, conducting interviews and recruiting participants for the program.

Those applicants applied for a CNA position on the hospital’s website, and those chosen after interviewing become employees of Johnson Memorial Health.

“Once they’re hired, we’ll kind of loan them to Ivy Tech for a 12-week CNA class there. When they complete that, they come back and work for us as an employee,” Schenk said.

Participants must be a high school graduate or have a GED certificate and pass tuition-free coursework at Ivy Tech Franklin. They also will be paid to work at the Franklin hospital campus on other days.

Indiana’s Department of Health requires CNAs to pass certification requirements at an approved institution. Ivy Tech provides training and certification pathways for CNAs and other licensed healthcare positions.

The program not only offers a gateway for people who are interested in nursing to start their journey, but it could be the way people find their calling, Schenk said.

“Some of these people will come in as CNAs and become career CNAs. The talents they bring to our patients with all of their experience is just amazing. Not everyone who enters this program has to have their eyes set on continuing their health care education,” she said.