Amid an increasing caregiver shortage and minimum wage hikes across the country, attracting newcomers to the home health industry—particularly younger workers—is a significant challenge. But one health professional aims to do just that through a foundation geared toward high schoolers.
The High School Health Education Foundation was created by Dr. William Leahy, a semi-retired neurologist in Greenbelt, Maryland. Leahy’s idea for the program was two-fold: install a program that carves a path to the health field for high school seniors who won’t attend college, and ensure elderly Americans receive the care they require at home or in senior living facilities, administered by home health aides, geriatric nurses and Certified Nursing Assistants.
The foundation combines a free, one-semester, after-school and weekends program involving classroom instruction for seniors at Gaithersburg High School in Maryland, with on-the-job training at Ingleside at King Farm continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Rockville, Maryland, according to Forbes. Textbooks, scrubs and equipment are paid for by the foundation.
Leahy asks high school vocational counselors to identify students who might be interested in health care, and he and his team then meet with the students and their parents or guardians. Applicants must submit essays on why they want to participate.
“Parents are very excited that their son or daughter could get the education they need to be in the health care industry without any cost,” Leahy told Forbes. “[And] the students are the first to be recruited for jobs at nursing homes or assisted living facilities.”
The application process proves competitive. Last year, Gaithersburg High School had 100 applicants for 15 available spots. To date, 60 kids have graduated from the program, and Leahy plans to soon bring the same concept to Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C. Thus far, he’s been deliberate about the growth of the program.
“One of the big concerns about scaling this is quality control,” he said. “So we’re doing this very incrementally and very regionally.”
But the impact at Gaithersburg has been profound, and extends beyond the number of graduates through the program.
“One of the interesting by-products has been that the older generation loves working with this younger generation,” Leahy said. “They exchange ideas and learn from each other.”
Written by Kourtney Liepelt