When facing a shortage of licensed nurses, certified nurse aides trained as medication assistants can be a viable alternative, according to a pilot study detailed in the Annals of Long Term Care.

Washington state has 5-year-old law allowing certified medication assistants, or MA-Cs, to administer certain medications to nursing home residents under the supervision of a registered nurse.

Previous research found no significant changes in medication error rates when medication techs were use, and this program set out to determine what would happen to staffing costs after using medication assistants who received specialized training through the Geriatric Interest Group of Spokane.

According to the researchers, affiliated with five different nursing homes, the program improved medication error rates, along with staff satisfaction, rehospitalization, call light response and fall rates, all without costing the test home significantly more in salaries.

The model was tested in a 50-bed long term care unit, using nursing assistants who had at least three years experience, limited absences, emotional maturity and positive attitudes. Trainees saw their pay rise to $16 hourly, a midway point between the facility’s average rate for CNAs and LPNs. Each received 104 hours of training before being certified for medication administration.

Based on what it calls “encouraging” findings, the Geriatric Interest Group plans to test the pilot at  three more nursing homes in 2018.