Medical students at a conference table

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Workforce shortages have been an issue for senior living and other long-term care providers for more than 20 years. But the pandemic finally prompted one senior living professional to put his money where his mouth is and invest up to $40 million annually in a solution.

In 2021, the Jack and Nancy Dwyer Workforce Development Center was launched as a 501(c)3  in Baltimore to solve systemic poverty, create a sustainable workforce of certified nursing assistants, and provide better care and better outcomes for residents of assisted living communities, skilled nursing facilities and other healthcare settings.

“The more you have continuity of employment, the better able to treat the people that are residents at your building,” Capital Funding Group and CFG Bank co-founder Jack Dwyer told McKnight’s Senior Living.

Dwyer and entrepreneur Barb Clapp, CEO of the Dwyer Workforce Development Center, joined forces to provide education opportunities and financial stability in underserved communities while creating a pipeline of trained healthcare workers for the senior housing and skilled nursing workplaces.

Through partnerships with workforce development programs, healthcare organizations and human services professionals, the nonprofit program provides free CNA job training and certification through a 10- to 12-week program. Graduates are invited to participate in a 13-week geriatric nursing assistant job training and certification program or jump immediately into the workforce with the help of job placement services.

After job placement, graduates are tracked in an effort to support job retention and help develop career goal plans. Graduates who reach measurable milestones have the chance to earn scholarships as Dwyer Scholars to attend nursing school to become registered nurses.

Dwyer said “people just constantly complain and do nothing.” He said the assisted living and nursing home industries have been good to him over the years, and he’s looking to give back and solve a problem.

“Nobody is doing that in this industry,” Dwyer said. “No one is coming up with the solution. This is a real solution.”

The pilot program launched July in Baltimore with the Living Classrooms Foundation serving as a training partner. The inaugural cohort of approximately 50 students is on schedule to finish training and begin working in the spring. Clapp said it costs roughly $3,000 to $5,000 to train each student, depending on the training partner.

To support students through the process, the program also provides “wraparound” services in the form of case management, transportation, child care, housing assistance, paycheck assistance and flexible scheduling with employers.

Although the program is focused in Baltimore right now, Dwyer and Clapp said there are plans to expand to other states over the next three years. Right now, Dwyer is setting his sights on Austin, TX, where he is buying 60 long-term care facilities. 

Dwyer and Clapp said each city’s program will look different depending on the location and partners, but the goal is the same: to train a sustainable workforce

“We know that there’s not going to be a cookie-cutter approach,” Clapp said. “It will be fluid.”

The Baltimore program, she said, has been “inundated” with people interested in being trained. The program looks to remove barriers to employment, including for young people without the means to attend college, veterans, the underemployed and the unemployed, Clapp added. 

“We’re trying to do a holistic approach to this, including addressing things that keep people out of employment — childcare, transportation, caring for a parent as the sandwich generation,” she said. “There are 1,000 reasons why these people cannot get to employment. We are approaching it in a way we can help push those barriers behind them and move forward.”

Initially, the nonprofit will be funded from profits from long-term care facilities that Dwyer now is acquiring from his private equity company partners. He said he plans to invest between $30 million and $40 million annually into the nonprofit training program. 

Clapp said the program is looking for support through senior living and care staffing partners, job training partners, student referrals and donations.