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Sat, Aug. 17

Rules getting stricter for assisted living caregivers

Nancy Getz, 88, a resident of Helen’s Place in Kingman, has her blood pressure tested by caregiver Lisa Edwards. The state recently tightened the training and certification of caregivers who work in assisted living facilities, increasing the number of training hours from 62 to 104 and deepening the level of subjects taught. (KIM STEELE/Miner)

Nancy Getz, 88, a resident of Helen’s Place in Kingman, has her blood pressure tested by caregiver Lisa Edwards. The state recently tightened the training and certification of caregivers who work in assisted living facilities, increasing the number of training hours from 62 to 104 and deepening the level of subjects taught. (KIM STEELE/Miner)

KINGMAN - Chris Callaway's job as a caregiver trainer is getting more complicated, and she couldn't be happier.

Callaway, who manages Helen's Place, an assisted living home in Kingman licensed for 10 residents, is one of two Mohave County trainers for caregivers who work in assisted living facilities. Callaway's program is one of 24 in the state approved by the Arizona Board of Nursing Care Institution Administrators and Assisted Living Facility Managers (NCIA/ALFM), which oversees caregiver certification. The other Mohave County trainer is located in Lake Havasu City.

On Aug. 3, the state's rules for training caregivers changed, increasing the number of educational hours and the depth of the material to be studied. That means Callaway, who started her first class under the new rules on Monday with 10 students, must make drastic changes in what she teaches.

"I'm happy with the changes," said Callaway, who has been training since 2009 and taught about 50 students last year. "When you hire someone who has gone through this new program, you can be sure they know their job and what is expected of them. In the past, they've been untrained and unprepared but they had their certification and could work. It was really scary."

Before, students in her classes needed 62 hours of training for a certificate, whereas now they must have 104 hours of training. Also, the coursework has gone from unstructured and based on whatever the trainer wanted to teach to very structured material that follows a detailed outline.

According to the NCIA, the training, standards and regulatory oversight for caregivers in 1998 went from the control of the NCIA to the Arizona Department of Health Services. But in 2011, Senate Bill 1038 was introduced and passed that moved it back to the NCIA. The bill allows the NCIA to grant, deny, suspend or revoke approval of, or place on probation, an assisted living facility training program. It also defines the coursework for a caregiver certificate.

The new training is required for all caregivers seeking certification after Aug. 3 and those who were grandfathered in under pre-1998 training rules. Current caregivers do not need to go through the new program.

Allen Imig, executive director of the NCIA, said the change came about for a number of reasons. Imig said the DHS was charged with implementing the caregiver training program but was not providing much oversight of it.

A loophole existed: If prospective caregivers could demonstrate their knowledge and ability after taking the course, they could skip the required test needed to get a certificate, he said.

Also, said Imig, since those tests were administered by the caregiver training programs, there were doubts about the quality of the training received by the caregivers due to a lack of accountability. Finally, said Imig, the severity of patients in assisted living increased, as residents needing full-time assistance were shuffled out of nursing homes to make room for others.

"This change helps us verify that the training programs throughout the state are doing what they should be doing," said Imig. "So far, it seems to be working, and I think it's a step in the right direction. There was very little oversight of caregiver training programs and this tightens things up and maintains the standards that are necessary for quality care."

After the new rules went into effect, said Callaway, the number of caregiver training programs in Arizona for assisted living facilities dropped from 150 to the current 24. For her, the changes will provide better control over fraud in the training programs and certificates that were questionably obtained.

"The state is taking this very seriously and I'm glad to see it," said Callaway. "We need more control over the caregivers in assisted living facilities and more rigid guidelines for their training. I was worried about what I was seeing throughout the state before, and this makes me feel a lot better about what I'll see in the future."

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