DOBSON — Eight nurses who are leaving their home country, hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico, are getting an opportunity to work in Surry County due to a partnership between Chatham Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, owned by Century Care Management, and Surry Community College.
Several years ago, Century Care purchased a local building called Chatham Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Elkin, and within the last year hired a brand new administrative team including Executive Director Hannah Davis. Like many other skilled nursing facilities, striving to maintain adequate staffing can be a struggle along with dealing with a state-wide nursing shortage. The team at Chatham decided to look outside the box. During this search, Michelle Fontaine, director of Operations for Century Care for 25 years, recalled how she had recruited nurses from the Philippines two decades ago.
She said, “It dawned on me one night that there were probably nurses in Puerto Rico who would want to relocate to this area due to the devastation that the hurricanes have brought on their home. It also occurred to me that because Puerto Rico is a part of the United States this could be a much easier process because they would not require VISAs.”
Fontaine started doing internet research and found a recruiter in Puerto Rico who had a large pool of nurses interested in relocating to the U.S. for work.
“The recruiter said these nurses wanted to leave Puerto Rico and start a new life where they could work as RNs,” Fontaine said. “Even before the hurricane, Puerto Rico’s economy had been depressed. These nurses had been forced into doing jobs outside of health care such as waiting tables or other sales positions.”
The next part of the adventure began when Fontaine journeyed to Puerto Rico to meet the applicants. She interviewed some in person and others via video chat because when it rained the roads were flooded, and they were unable to travel to the interview, which illustrated how difficult their situation is in Puerto Rico.
“I asked them why did you become a nurse. Their answers were similar. They want to help people and are empathetic to individuals who need to be taken care of. Many of them had cared for aging family members,” Fontaine said. “They all want a better opportunity. They want to use their nursing skills and knowledge. They want to grow professionally, and they want to care for people as nurses.”
For what is perhaps the most difficult part of this arrangement, it had to be determined how these nurses would become licensed locally, because even though they have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing, they cannot practice as nurses in North Carolina without passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN).
For this part of the task Fontaine reached out to the Division of Health Service Regulation in Raleigh and spoke with Kathy Turner who reached out to community colleges around the Elkin area.
“Surry Community College was eager to help. I knew there would be no better partner than Surry Community College to offer the nurses a Nurse Aide Refresher course that would allow them to quickly become Certified Nurse Aides, so they can then work and earn an income while they simultaneously study four to six months for the NCLEX-RN,” Fontaine said. “Most of these individuals are coming from areas completely devastated by the hurricane; some have been volunteering and almost none have the resources for this type of move.”
The parent company of Chatham Nursing and Rehab, Century Care Management of Cary, is making this possible. Century Care Management is led by an amazing group of caring individuals who saw the need and jumped at the chance to help. They made the decision to fly all of these nurses over, to furnish and pay for housing, and to cover coursework and supplies during their first 60 days in Elkin. Vicki Clark and Donna Luffman with Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital were more than happy to partner with Chatham Nursing in providing housing options.
This arrangement would not be possible without the partnership with Surry Community College and Deborah Cave, the college’s director of Allied Health.
“We are thrilled to be able to participate in this relocation and training program for the nurses from Puerto Rico,” Cave said. “I understand that they have gone through a lot in their lives, and I am glad that we can provide the Nurse Aide Refresher training for them, which will be a large part of them being able to make better lives for themselves. Michelle Roberts and Pansy White are our instructors who have completely changed their classes around in order to take on this extra assignment.”
By participating in the training and relocation program offered by Chatham Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, the nurses will be under contract for two years with the center.
“I see this as a win-win. These nurses needed jobs, and we needed nurses,” Fontaine said. “We hope they will stay with us long beyond their contracts. When we recruited from the Philippines, we hired four nurses, and one of those is still working with us today. That’s been about 23 years ago. We hope that some of these eight nurses will do the same.”
Administrator Hannah Davis reports that she is thrilled at the prospect of assisting these ladies and gentlemen to grow in their nursing careers and settle in a new area and is equally as excited about bringing such high-quality staff to the residents at Chatham Nursing & Rehab.
The group of bilingual nurses, ages ranging from their 20s to their 30s including five women and three men, arrived in North Carolina on Nov. 25. Many of them will be bringing their families to Surry County after they get settled.
Surry Community College offers a wide variety of healthcare courses including Nurse Aide I, Nurse Aide II, Associate Degree Nursing, Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) and a bridge program for LPNs who want to become Registered Nurses. Starting this fall, Surry Community College will offer two Bachelors of Science in nursing degree programs through a partnership with Lees-McRae College. For more information, go to www.surry.edu.