Delaware County Community College, Serving Delaware and Chester Counties

First-of-its-Kind Program Trains Deaf Students to Work as Nurse Aides for Deaf Elderly Residents


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(Delaware and Chester Counties, PA • August 6, 2015)—For the first time in Pennsylvania, and possibly in the nation, 13 care providers who are Deaf will become Nurse Aides through a unique collaboration involving Delaware County Community College, Mercy LIFE, the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and South Jersey, and the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Thanks to a United Way grant, the “Excellence in Care” program enables four Deaf staff members at a time from Mercy LIFE Valley View, first-of-its-kind PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) program located in a residential facility, to take classes as a small group cohort at the College with the help of two American Sign Language interpreters. After successfully completing the 133-hour program, students will test to be placed on the Pennsylvania Nurse Aide Registry, a requirement for Mercy LIFE Valley View staff.

“The students are excited beyond belief,” said Beatrice Agar, the College’s nurse aide program coordinator, adding that the program is the first of its kind in Pennsylvania. The first cohort of four students began classes in July.

Mercy LIFE (Living Independently for Elders), which operates Valley View and is a division of Mercy Health System, approached the College about the innovative partnership, which also allows the Deaf staff to continue working at Valley View while taking classes at the College.

Anna Marshalick, Mercy LIFE’s director of clinical education, added that the students are able to take this unique course at no cost. “For the students, it is the opportunity of a lifetime,” Marshalick said, adding that she knows of no other program in the country that provides contoured, nurse-aide instruction to Deaf students in a cohort model setting.

Because many of the Valley View workers had not been in an academic setting for some time, Marshalick and Sharvette Law Philmon, interim dean of the College’s Allied Health, Emergency Services and Nursing division, arranged to provide the students with optional student success preparation coursework. The College donated medical terminology textbooks and Law Philmon recommended other support materials. “The students were receptive and motivated to partake in this optional prep work,” Law Philmon said, adding that the College’s nurse aide training program can be stressful, especially for working adults.

Bringing the Excellence in Care program to fruition over the past year and a half also required collaboration and innovation to overcome other challenges:

Challenge #1: Mercy LIFE requires first-line care givers to be listed on the Pennsylvania Nurse Aide Registry. When Mercy LIFE acquired Valley View in 2014, it committed to keeping the 13 Deaf staff members, many of whom had developed a close rapport with the residents of Valley View. But the workers had not completed a state-approved Nurse Aide Training and Competency Evaluation Program, and therefore were not on the Pennsylvania Nurse Aide Registry.

Solution: Mercy LIFE arranged to train all 13 staff for the required, nurse aide certification test with the help of the College, and has coordinated their classroom schedules with their shifts at Valley View to enable them to continue the work they love while they complete their studies.

Colleen Jordan, 31, one of the students in the Excellence in Care program, was hired at Valley View 10 years ago after finishing high school. “I felt like it was a great match for me,” Jordan said through an interpreter of the program. “I didn’t even realize I had a hidden talent with the residents here.”

Challenge #2: One skill in the Pennsylvania nurse aide certification test requires the ability to hear. It requires applicants to have the ability to measure and record blood pressure using a stethoscope to hear the sounds of the blood as it runs through an artery.

Solution: Delaware County Community College worked hand-in-hand with the Pennsylvania Department of Education and received permission to teach the students using an electronic cuff that translates heart sounds into a digital read-out. In addition, the state agreed to test the students on a random selection of 21 other skills. “The state Department of Education is collaborating with us to make accommodations,” Agar said.

Challenge #3: Another challenge was scheduling and ensuring students could work at Valley View while completing classes at the College.

Solution: “We’ve modified our program for them so they can do the 133 hours, but we have kind of stretched it out so we are not interrupting the care they provide at Valley View,” Agar said.

Additionally, the College arranged for two American Sign Language interpreters to not only translate for the students in the classroom, but also to accompany them on their clinical rotations at a long-term care facility.

About Mercy LIFE:

Mercy LIFE is a nationally recognized Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) that offers older adults a total solution for long-term care. The program provides medical and social services, at home and at the Mercy LIFE Day Centers, helping older adults maintain their independence. Mercy LIFE has provided community based long-term care in South Philadelphia since 2001, in North Philadelphia since 2009 and to residents throughout Delaware County since January 2014. Visit www.mercylife.org for more information.

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