COVID-19 bill revives cut in nursing aide training

By: - April 15, 2020 7:00 am
Nursing Home worker

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A reduction in training requirements for certified nursing assistants (CNA) that Gov. Tony Evers vetoed last year, and that was blocked a second time when Republicans failed in their attempt to override that veto, has returned in the Legislature’s massive COVID-19 bill that passed the Assembly on Tuesday.

Language in AB-1038 reduces the minimum number of training hours for CNAs from 120 hours to 75 — the standard provided under federal law. CNAs are employed mainly in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes.

Current state regulations set the training standard at 120 hours for licensing in Wisconsin, including 32 hours of clinical experience. The new language was originally contained in AB-76, introduced in March 2019 by Republicans with a couple of Democratic cosponsors. That bill would have prevented state standards for CNAs from requiring more than the 75-hour federal standard, which includes 16 hours of clinical experience.

The original legislation passed both the Assembly and the Senate on divided votes and with the support of nursing administrators and corporations in the long-term care industry, who said it was needed to help overcome a shortage of CNAs.

“This change will increase the financial ability of individuals interested in healthcare careers to enter the field in a time frame that is comparable to other entry level positions, will decrease the financial burden on the individual and still adequately prepare them for entry as a health care worker” in the long-term care field, the Wisconsin Director of Nursing Council stated in testimony submitted in support of the bill at an Assembly public hearing.

Several other organizations and nursing home operators also submitted testimony in favor of the bill.

The American Association of Retired Persons and the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources opposed the legislation, as did the Wisconsin AFL-CIO. Opponents said that the lower training standard wouldn’t alleviate the workforce shortage in the long-term care industry, and raised the chances of putting inadequately trained CNAs in the field.

In his message vetoing the bill in November, Evers stated: “I object to providing less training for those who care for our state’s most vulnerable citizens. Research has shown that higher training standards result in better outcomes for patients, lower staff turnover, and higher job satisfaction. There are better ways to address the shortage of nurse aides than reducing the quality of training programs.”

The veto was sustained in January 2020 when an Assembly override vote, 63-36 along party lines, fell short of the two-thirds support necessary.

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Unlike other elements of the COVID-19 bill, the language blocking the state from imposing more hours than the federal standard does not appear to have a sunset provision that would expire when the state health emergency is over.

Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh), in a speech that mostly commended the work done by both parties on the bill, acknowledged that he considered the CNA provision unnecessary and ill-advised.

“So I don’t think it’s good policy,” Hintz said. “But I understand that I came here today not to look for reasons to vote against something.”

The CNA-training provision was among the items cited by the two lawmakers who voted against AB-1038, Milwaukee Democrats Jonathan Brostoff and Marisabel Cabrera.

In a joint statement explaining their opposition to the bill, they declared: “Republicans used the mammoth omnibus bill and the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic to reintroduce a previously-failed measure to cut training hours for certified nursing assistants (CNAs), thereby putting vulnerable Wisconsinites in harm’s way both during and long after the COVID-19 crisis passes.”

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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.

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