COOLIDGE — On the morning of July 1, Kiamesha Guy’s daughter received a startling email from the Central Arizona Valley Institute of Technology.
Sent just over an hour after the CAVIT Governing Board’s monthly meeting, the email informed students that the Nursing Assistant II course had been sunsetted for the 2020-21 school year. The course, the email went on to inform students, was being swapped for Allied Health curriculum instead.
During the meeting held prior to the release of the email, Superintendent Mike Glover told board members that the district was requesting their approval to temporarily sunset the second-year course because of an inability to secure a viable program instructor. The district, he informed board members, had advertised the position for 90 days.
Guy was made aware of the email by her daughter, a nursing assistant student at CAVIT preparing for her second year, who she said was devastated by the news.
The reason, Guy said, is because the Allied Health program differs dramatically from the Nursing Assistant II course. For many students like her daughter, the change creates an unexpected snag in their future plans.
“For my child, after she passed the state testing, she was going to take her CNA and with that CNA she would have been actually able to work while she was at University of Arizona — attending as a student and work(ing) at UA’s hospital as a nursing assistant,” Guy said.
But without a license as a certified nursing assistant, that future now feels uncertain. And Guy’s daughter was not the only one impacted by the decision.
PinalCentral was contacted by another nursing assistant student going into her second year at CAVIT, who asked to remain anonymous because she still attends the school.
“This isn’t what we signed up for,” the student said. “I’m not sure what to do now. Do I want to continue doing CAVIT even though this (decision) might mess up credentials and stuff, or do I want to just drop it and go find other opportunities?”
No significant changes have been made to the first half of the program, which students complete in their first year at CAVIT. However, according to Guy, Allied Health will not provide students with the certification they need to work one-on-one with patients in a hospital setting, which is exactly what her daughter hoped to do.
“When you look at the medical assistant program at CAVIT and you look at the Allied Health, it’s pretty much neck-and-neck as far as what (they) offer,” she said. “The major difference is that the nursing assistant (certification) allows you to work first-hand with the patients.”
In the initial email sent to students, CAVIT outlined that in the first semester of the second-year Allied Health curriculum, students will receive training as a patient care technician. The training, the email reads, will provide students with the skills they need to assist patients in hospitals, medical clinics and physician offices.
During the second semester, students will then train as an electrocardiogram technician and a phlebotomy technician.
Students that successfully complete the patient care technician course will be able to sit for the corresponding exam, Glover confirmed.
Articles posted by Burnett International College and other sources suggest that the responsibilities of a patient care technician mirror those of a CNA. However, patient care technicians typically also perform the additional duties of phlebotomy and EKG, and generally earn higher wages as a result.
In some states, patient care technicians do not perform the same tasks as CNAs. But it’s unclear if a patient care technician certificate will hinder students from conducting any of the duties a CNA would do in an Arizona hospital.
When asked if the patient care technician license would impede students who successfully obtain their licensure from performing any tasks a CNA would take on, CAVIT administration simply said, “Earning a Patient Care Technician industry certification gives students another opportunity for health careers employment.”
For students seeking to further their education to eventually becoming a licensed nurse, the matter is further complicated. According to Guy, for students seeking to become nurses or eventually doctors, the certificate they receive through the Allied Health program will not suffice.
“For the majority of students, getting their CNA was not the end of their journey, it was just the start of their journey and a very good way to start it,” she said.
But beyond notifying students of the change to the instruction only after the decision had already been made, Guy said she was also frustrated by the fact that parents were not immediately made aware of the changes.
The initial email sent out by the district on July 1, she said, only went to students.
“We (the parents) didn’t receive anything at all, and we’ve received several emails throughout (the pandemic),” she said. “From March until June we were receiving correspondence, we were receiving surveys, everything — so CAVIT clearly has the parents’ emails. But for whatever reason, when Mr. Glover sent this out, it only went to the students.
“As a parent, I think that’s absurd because they were all first-year students, so we know that they’re not seniors,” she continued. “Why would he do that? Why would he send it to students that were all under the age of 18?”
According to Glover, however, a letter regarding the change was mailed home by the district on the same day.
For Guy, the problem points to a deeper issue, primarily that the school made the decision while overlooking the importance of notifying stakeholders of the upcoming change or seeking their input — an error she believes became apparent when the school backpedaled from its initial decision.
In a letter sent out on July 6, the school reiterated that the program was closed due to an inability to secure a qualified instructor and indicated that the Governing Board may reopen the program in the second semester of the 2020-21 school year if a viable instructor is located.
“For me, and for many students, it just seems like a gamble,” the NA student said. “We have one choice that could benefit us, or maybe not. But then there’s another choice that could really benefit us — the CNA in one semester— but at the same time that’s really stressful to deal with because for a high schooler, that’s a lot of work.”
But for school administration, the idea is to buy time to continue seeking out applicants for the program.
“If a student wanted Nursing Assisting, we’re just saying give us a semester to find a teacher and we’ll offer it second semester if we can find a qualified teacher,” Glover said. “In my mind, I think that’s a good option. We’re not leaving anyone out, it’s just that we need some time. This is a difficult time to find teachers.”
The letter also outlined two options for program students during the year, which began virtually on Monday. Students have the option of enrolling in the Patient Care course for their first semester and then moving on to the Nursing Assistant class in the second semester should it reopen, or not attending CAVIT until the NA course reopens on Jan. 5, 2021.
“Then we get an email that talks about (that) there’s options, when of course there weren’t any options before,” Guy said. “Then we find out that he claimed that there was no one who applied, which of course after some deep digging I found that there was someone who not only applied but was approved to be hired.”
In the meeting with board members on July 1, Glover said that no viable candidate had been secured for the position. But meeting minutes from the June 3 CAVIT Governing board meeting indicate that an instructor was approved for the NA II program in a 3-0 vote.
According to Glover, the two applicants offered positions within the program did not sign their contracts. In addition, securing instructors who meet all the requirements for the program has not been simple for the district.
For an applicant to teach as an NA instructor, they are required to hold a registered nurse license as outlined by the Arizona State Board of Nursing. Applicants must also hold at least two years of nursing experience and at least 1,500 hours of teaching adults as a faculty member, among a host of other requirements.
“Not every registered nurse, who’s currently working in the field, is going to have the qualifications to meet instructor approval through the board of nursing,” Glover said. “Every time we have an applicant that we consider, we first get the board of nursing to approve that person before we bring it to the (CAVIT Governing) Board.”
But the district had no plans to shutter the program until it became apparent that the school would be unable to find a teacher in time for the start of the school year.
The board, Glover said, waited until the very last minute to decide on the program sunset in the hopes of securing a teacher in time.
But for Guy, another issue was the lack of notification the school gave parents regarding the opportunity for students to take the second part of the Nursing Assistant course over the summer.
In June, CAVIT made the decision to offer the summer courses for certain programs including Nursing Assisting, particularly for students who had been impacted by school closure amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
That the opportunity to take the Nursing Assistant II course ahead of the decision to shutter it was available is something Guy said was never brought to her attention as a parent — a fact that she believes highlights the school’s tendency to overlook students and parents in its decision making.
“This only affects our students — our children,” she said. “And I don’t understand how they thought it was a good idea to make that decision without hearing from the parents (and) without hearing from the students.”