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New JourneyCare workforce development program bridges critical healthcare gap

Chicago area families in need of hospice and palliative care face a critical gap in connecting with those services, due to a national nursing shortage, cultural misconceptions toward healthcare, and other industry challenges.

That is why JourneyCare and the JourneyCare Foundation launched the new Hunter Family Foundation Workforce Development Initiative, which offers multidimensional programs that connect families in local communities with the care they need.

The initiative was created thanks to gifts from the Hunter Family Foundation, the Coleman Foundation, Astellas and Vince and Pat Foglia. The program focuses on three key areas that will create better access for patients living with serious illness and their families: apprenticeship, community education and clinical education.

“When building the program, we wanted to make sure we addressed the needs of JourneyCare, but soon saw the power this program could have on educating and collaborating with the community,” Joseph P. Matty, JourneyCare Foundation President, said. “The program evolved into an opportunity to lead the post-acute industry addressing workforce and community education needs.”

Reinvesting in our own

The program’s apprenticeship component allows JourneyCare to reinvest in current staff by providing opportunities for Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) education to earn their associate degree in science and become Registered Nurses (RNs), helping address the national nursing shortage directly for JourneyCare and the communities it serves.

JourneyCare funds selected employees’ tuition, fees, books and the salary for a specific amount of hours spent on studies during their work week. Their education is currently conducted in partnership with Harper College in Palatine, with plans to expand to additional colleges for future cohorts.

JourneyCare just welcomed its first six CNAs for this opportunity: Sarah Bohne, who serves patients in the northwest suburbs; Lucas Leger, whose patients are in the north central suburbs; Magdalena Zastrow (Kowalczyk), who cares for patients in the Fox Valley and DeKalb; Melissa de Jesus, whose patients are in the central south, west and northwest suburbs; and Mary Ellen Hennessy and Debrina Moore, who serve at JourneyCare’s inpatient hospice CareCenter at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights.

“We faced a challenge in recruiting qualified RNs to fill vacancies at JourneyCare due to a national RN workforce shortage of 1.1 million nurses, as projected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2018,” Venoncia M. Baté-Ambrus, PhD, MS, MA, Founding Director of Workforce Development, said. She brings over 20 years of combined experience in higher education, health and human service administration, workforce development, nonprofit leadership, and stakeholder engagement to leading the Hunter Family Foundation Workforce Development Initiative.

“It will be valuable to have CNAs become RNs to support our own valued employees in the pursuit of their higher education and career aspiration goals, thereby increasing our ability to fill key clinical vacancies with employees and provide exceptional patient care,” she adds. ”An additional benefit is that the apprenticeship program will help diversify the healthcare workforce. “

A second component of the apprentice program includes new faces on the JourneyCare team: Community Health Workers. These apprentices will ultimately aim to foster connections between JourneyCare and other community healthcare providers where there is need for palliative and end-of-life care. They are: Maureen Burns, serving the Chicago’s north side in Rogers Park, bringing a background in hospice pharmacy; Kandis Draw, serving the south side in Chatham with experience in housing and cancer advocacy; and Angélica Gomez, serving the west side in greater Lawndale, bringing her bachelor of arts in community psychology, as well as community organizing experience in this community.

As part of the initiative’s partnerships, these women completed training and earned a certificate in their discipline from Sinai Urban Health Institute last month, which was enhanced with JourneyCare content focused on hospice, palliative care, advance directives and grief and loss. They are now currently beginning work toward their Basic Certificate in Community Health Work this month at Malcolm X College.

“These professionals come from the communities they serve, bringing a cultural, linguistic and community match to communities where JourneyCare offers services, while also reaching their own educational goals,” Baté-Ambrus said.

Creating equity in our communities

The Community Health Workers will play a special role in the second focus of the Hunter Family Foundation Workforce Development Initiative – community education. Along with fellow JourneyCare staff, they will conduct community education in areas often medically underserved, including Chicago’s Rogers Park, North and South Lawndale and Chatham neighborhoods.

This outreach is tailored to each community’s cultural history, any existing stigmas toward death and end-of-life planning, while also discussing hospice and palliative care services that JourneyCare provides, regardless of a family’s means.

“As we were creating this program, we soon realized the lack of community awareness around palliative care and hospice,” Matty said. “From there we saw the disproportionate gap between the African American and Hispanic/Latinx community trusting clinicians around end-of-life care. This gap poses a challenge that is not particular to JourneyCare but, rather, is seen industrywide.”

“We want to be proactive in promoting health equity in post-acute care, addressing related social determinants of health and fostering diversity, equity and inclusion,” Matty said.

Preparing caregivers of tomorrow

The final focus of the Hunter Family Foundation Workforce Development Initiative is providing clinical training for medical and university students. This builds on JourneyCare’s longtime role as trainer to learners who are completing rotations in a variety of disciplines, including physicians, nurses and social workers.

This work is especially valuable, as these rotations aims to increase each resident’s awareness, knowledge and clinical skills when caring for patients with serious illnesses. They are taught symptom assessment and management, communication skills, ethical principles and the differences between hospice and palliative care.

“This gives residents an opportunity to learn from JourneyCare’s experts in hospice and palliative care, and understand our exceptional patient care environment,” Baté-Ambrus said. “Working alongside such caring, compassionate providers will ultimately allow them to better serve their patients in the future.”

To give to the Hunter Family Foundation Workforce Development Initiative, please visit www.journeycare.org/donate or contact JourneyCare Foundation Grants and Campaign Director Julie Blandford: jblandford@journeycare.org, 847-845-9195.

Joseph P. Matty,
President, JourneyCare Foundation

Venoncia M. Baté-Ambrus, PhD, MS, MA, Director of Workforce Development