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Nursing homes short on workers in Minnesota could soon be welcoming hundreds of new certified nursing assistants to their ranks.

Gov. Tim Walz (D) on Tuesday announced the state’s Next Generation Nursing Assistant initiative surpassed its goal of recruiting 1,000 new workers with a total of 1,278 registered participants. The program, which opened in January, covers the cost of tuition, books, uniform and certification exam fees for those interested in pursuing a career as a CNA. 

The state is using $3.4 million in federal relief and $6.7 million in state money to fund the program. An additional $13.3 million has been proposed for the program for fiscal year 2024-2025. 

“With approximately 23,000 open caregiver positions across the state, we need bold solutions to ensure that Minnesota’s seniors care receive the care they need, when and where they need it,” Kari Thurlow, president and CEO of LeadingAge Minnesota, told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News on Thursday.  “Adding more than 1,000 trained caregivers to our field will make an impact, and we are hopeful that Gov. Walz’s administration will continue to dedicate resources to programs that allow us to recruit and retain skilled professional caregivers.” 

The state added that the program helps its effort to continue relieving National Guard members that have served as CNAs during the pandemic. 

Of the total participants, 940 have enrolled in free training courses offered by the state or a private training provider. Additionally, 338 high school students are accessing training through their school district with the state paying for their certification exam. 

Students who have completed their training are in the process of taking their certification exam. Once certified, the CNAs will be eligible for employment at any hospital, long-term care facility or veterans home.

“This initiative is one that benefits everyone in our state in the short- and long-term … It supports our healthcare industry, providing necessary staff for high-need careers. It benefits anyone who needs care, whether in a hospital or a long-term care facility,” Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said in a statement. 

“And it supports Minnesotans who want to join the healthcare workforce, but are facing financial barriers. By continuing this program, we are making an investment in the next generation of health care workers,” she added.