On February 1st 2016, TCC opened the doors to the only Community Health Aide Training Center in Interior Alaska. Mariah Bifelt of Hughes, Rochelle Bifelt of Nenana, Karissa Carroll of Ruby, and Eva Thomas of Northway were the first four students to begin their education inside the new facility.
Health aides will attend the classroom portions of training in the state of the art renovated classroom of 1st floor Al Ketzler Senior Building. The patient care/clinical portion of training will be done at Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center. Our hope is to overlap the health aides in training as much as possible with providers from the Primary Care Teams that cover their village.
This will begin to establish the essential working relationship with CAIHC providers and health aides they work with every day. This training collaboration is an exceptional opportunity not offered at any other health aide training site. Faith Walsh, a nurse and the training center manager said, “There is such a huge waitlist to get into health aide training statewide and with this center we will partner with the field training department to coordinate ongoing training and build better relationships.”
“Community Health Aides are often the only health care provider in our villages and they have to be prepared to deal with every medical situation or emergency you can possibly think of,” said Jacoline Bergstrom, Executive Director of Health Services, “The lack of training capacity for the community health aides in the State has been a challenge and frustration for years. So, it’s really exciting that we are now able to train our aides ourselves and that we are able to fast track their training through the use of technology. IT will give our villages more access to trained health aides who can provide a higher level of care in the community because of the trainings we are now able to provide.”
Previously Health Aides who were accepted into the program would have to travel to Anchorage, Nome or Bethel to complete parts of their training. However, Nome and Bethel’s training centers quickly fill up with student from their region, leaving little if any room for health aides from the interior. Crystal Stordahl says she is thankful to the TCC Executive Board for funding the program despite we receive no additional I.H.S. funding for running training center. The board’s commitment to fund this program sends a strong message of support to grow our own and support the rural clinics,” Stordahl said.
Traditional health aide training breaks up each of the four levels of training with several months between each session and depending on training capacity and availability of students it could be a year or more between some of the sessions and 5 years to reach the highest level. TCC will pilot a fast track training program taking level I students through to level IV in a 12 month timeframe. The intention is to rapidly teach and re-inforce all skills the health aide may be called on to use. By having all facets of the training, we envision health aides being more comfortable with the variety of medical skills they will need to perform at any given time for any type of patient.
“It is an incredible honor to be entrusted to train our own health aides so they are ready to care for patients in their community,” said Crystal Stordahl, Director of TCC’s Community Health Aide Program.
Many Health Aides have waited years to get into the program. “Growing up I always wanted to be a nurse but I thought it would take too long,” said Karissa Carroll, “when I heard about this position it sparked my interest because I want to be able to help my community and give back.” Once she completes the program Carroll will be the only Health Aide in her community, “There were three,” she said “but the other two resigned.”
Another student who waited to get into the program, Rochelle Bifelt says she knows the importance of having Health Aides in the villages, “I’m excited to start seeing patients and to be able to carry my weight back at my clinic in Nenana.”
In 2014 CHA/Ps provided 5,800 direct patient care visits, that number was increased by nearly 200 more than previous years, a number that continues to grow. Health Aides are tasked with anything from emergency care to every day administrative work to keep their offices running. They remain the primary access to health care in rural Alaska including 24/7 emergency medical response. “Health Aides are the backbone to our rural health care system,” TCC President Victor Joseph said, “there has been a need for a training location in our region and we are happy to provide that place so our tribal members can have access to quality care.”