NIC partners with Kootenai Health to offer Mental Health Assistant course
Story by Kaye Thornbrugh
Photo by Tom Greene
Kimberly Enos has known pain. Years ago, when she was in a dark place, she landed in a behavioral health unit, with a nurse at her bedside to monitor her.
The nurse listened to Enos, empathized with her, encouraged her—and it turns out, that’s exactly what Enos needed.
“She brought me hope,” Enos said.
That hospital stay was a turning point in her life. Fast-forward to today, and Enos can be found doing for other people what that nurse did for her. She’s been a certified nursing assistant for 10 years; before that, she worked in home health care. Currently, she works in the adult behavioral health unit at Kootenai Health.
“I love taking care of people,” she said. “I still go to work and say, ‘I can’t believe I get paid to do this.’ It goes beyond words.”
Recently, Enos received advanced training in behavioral and mental health and achieved certification through the Certified Mental Health Assistant course offered by the NIC Workforce Training Center. The course prepares healthcare professionals to provide care for the unique needs of people with mental illness, dementia and developmental disabilities. The course was offered as part of an Idaho Department of Labor sector strategy grant, in partnership with Kootenai Health, Northwest Hospital Alliance and Valley Vista Care.
Advanced training in mental health can open the door for CNAs to enter the mental health field. NIC’s course fees include the Level 1 American Association of Psychiatric Technicians (AAPT) exam, and working CNAs who pass the exam may be eligible for certification pay.
“We want to have 100 percent of our CNAs go through this course,” said Claudia Miewald, director of Kootenai Health’s Behavioral Health Services. “It’s that beneficial.”
In general, Miewald said, the CNA training period isn’t very long, and mental health isn’t part of the curriculum; however, many patients have mental health needs. The certified mental health assistant course is designed to teach CNAs to meet those needs. Because CNAs are often utilized as “sitters” — healthcare professionals who sit with and monitor patients in a hospital setting — this kind of training is especially helpful.
“They are able to interact much more comfortable and have the skills to work with patients who have mental illness or dementia,” Miewald said. “They are much more prepared and have the confidence to work with this population. It’s wonderful to have this class.”
As a CNA, Enos said she spends more time with her patients than anyone else. Mental health training allows her to better advocate for her patients and better serve their needs. She’s also gained new skills to help her work, such as how to look for medication side effects and how to discern the subtle differences between patients who are displaying symptoms of mental illness or symptoms of drug use.
“We’re taking care of human beings,” she said. “This could be your sister, your mom. These are my people. That’s how I look at it.”
In her work, Enos deals with many patients who’ve just attempted suicide. The course taught her new ways to speak to those patients in a therapeutic manner.
“Before, I was always afraid to say the word ‘suicide,’ and talking to patients about how they ended up (in the hospital),” she said. “I learned to get over that part. To be able to talk to someone that way and let them pour their heart out is an amazing experience.”
Enos believes in treating patients as a whole—not just their bodies, but the wounds that can’t be seen. The mental health training she received through the NIC Workforce Training Center helps her do that for her patients, just as a nurse once did for her.
“It’s important that people are validated. It’s okay to feel your feelings. It’s okay to be human,” Enos said. “I enjoy the process of bringing hope to people who are suffering.”
For more information about the Certified Mental Health Assistant course, contact the NIC Workforce Training Center at (208) 769-3333 or visit www.workforcetraining.nic.edu.