Happy staff talking around a table.
(Credit: the Good Brigade / Getty Images)

Denver-based Christian Living Communities has extended its signature mentorship program for certified nursing assistants to the state of Wisconsin.

The expansion is possible through funding from Gov. Tony Evers (D). In July, the governor announced a $6 million investment through the American Rescue Plan Act to expand the WisCaregivers Career Workforce Development Program. The monies were earmarked to address the shortage of CNAs in the states’ nursing homes. Through this partnership with CLC, the state expects to have an additional 3,000 clinical team members in Wisconsin nursing homes by July 2024.

“We wanted to implement CLC’s mentorship program statewide to improve clinical team member retention in our nursing homes and to reward our current workforce with bonuses. In addition, the program teaches employers onboarding best practices and helps make them more competitive in the crowded healthcare labor market,” stated Kate Battiato, vice president of workforce development for the Wisconsin Health Care Association and Wisconsin Center for Assisted Living. Those organizations have been working with CLC on the program.

Under the direction of Pat McBride, vice president of clinical and compliance at CLC, the organization began its mentorship program in 2010 to address recruitment and retention issues that the company was experiencing at that time. This is the first time the CLC has been invited to share the program outside of its own communities.

“It wasn’t as big as it is now, but it was a really bad time for retention and recruitment of nurses,” McBride told the McKnight’s Business Daily.

CLC now enjoys an 87% overall clinical retention rate with the program’s implementation. 

At the time, she said, mentorship programs existed within hospitals, but there were none for nursing homes that she could find. Her first step in setting up the CLC program was to talk to nurses and CNAs who had left the profession to find out why they left, and to staff that had stayed on the job to find out why they stayed. 

Some staff members who left said that they felt that they didn’t have the skills needed to do their jobs. Others said they didn’t have a personal connection with a coworker to whom they could turn. Those who stayed said they had a work friend to whom they could ask questions.

“So, that’s what the mentorship program is all about,” McBride said. “Those are still the premises of the program. That’s the ‘special sauce.’ ”

The program model begins with a mentor recruitment and screening effort, training and incentive program. Newly trained mentors are matched with new-hire “mentees,” who will receive support from their mentor for an entire year. The mentor/mentee relationship covers training topics. Nurses and CNAs appreciate having a supportive ear to listen and a shoulder to lean on when the job feels overwhelming, McBride has found.

Nathalie Knopp, CLC’s director of clinical staff development, now heads the mentorship program. She presented the program at the 2018 Wisconsin LeadingAge Conference. It was this conference that served as the genesis of the partnership between CLC and WisCaregivers. 

Knopp said that CLC has been working Battiato of WHCA/WCAL, and Janice Mashak, vice president of member services and innovation at LeadingAge Wisconsin, to help them integrate CLC’s program for their own use moving forward. The state’s funding will pay for CNAs training, as well as pay for nursing home nurses to go through mentor training and also pay a bonus to mentors if their trainees stay on the job for six months.

McBride and Knopp have held two training sessions so far for Wisconsin nursing home CNAs. The duo will work with one more introductory group this spring. The program also provides follow-up coaching.

“This can be replicated in any community,” McBride said.

CLC celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2022.