Chattanooga, TN – Orange Grove Center, Chattanooga State Community College, and NHC Chattanooga are proud to announce their collaboration on a new Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) training program taking place in a dedicated space on Orange Grove Center’s main campus on Derby Street.  The program is an intensive two-week course involving classroom and experiential learning which culminates in students taking the State of Tennessee CNA Licensure Exams, which test both knowledge and skills. Orange Grove Center, which celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2023, supports children and adults with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (IDD) in a wide range of programs, including school-age services, employment, residential, behavioral health, primary medical care, and dental services.

“Orange Grove’s mission has always been to provide the highest quality of care possible to the people it supports. One of the ways we do that is by constantly looking at how we train staff. Training and onboarding is already robust at Orange Grove, but we wanted to look at new ways to add skills and further build expertise,” says Orange Grove CEO Tera Roberts. “We are thrilled to partner with Chattanooga State and NHC Chattanooga to offer this program, and boost the professionalism of caregiving staff,” Roberts stated.

Students in the program have been hired by Orange Grove Center and complete all required background checks and prerequisites. Staff then enroll as students through Chattanooga State to participate in the program. NHC, a Tennessee-based senior care company with communities across the Southeast, is hosting the students for the clinical training portion at its Chattanooga location. NHC will also be the testing site for at least the first several cohorts of students, while Orange Grove applies for approval from the State as a testing site. The first cohort of students began classes on January 22 and finished the program on February 2, 2024.

The program is unique because Orange Grove is underwriting the cost of the program, including the testing, and paying the students an hourly training rate while they participate in the 75-hour program. Students are hired as Direct Support Professionals (DSPs), and the program is offered to both new-hires and existing DSPs. Other CNA certification programs frequently have tuition costs associated with them and require students to pay for their own testing.

The instructor for the inaugural cohort of students was Tammy Clark, RN, BSN, and most recently NHC Chattanooga’s CNA Program Coordinator. “This group of students was a bit different than other groups I’ve taught,” Clark said. “They were very motivated, driven to succeed, and absorbed everything we taught them.”

“The beauty of the CNA certification program is that it gives students valuable skills and builds their confidence as caregivers and as students. Completing the certification often is a great first step toward the next level of education for many people in healthcare, and the bonus is that the students possess marketable skills that give them the ability to work and earn a living while they continue their education,” Clark explained.

Start-up costs for the program are being funded in part by the United Way of Greater Chattanooga as well as an anonymous funder, and Orange Grove has applied for additional grants from local foundations. “Since our founding in 1953, this community has supported all of Orange Grove’s growth,” says Heidi Hoffecker, Orange Grove’s Director of Development. “In a sense, the community has been supporting ‘start-up’ costs for 70 years, because while Orange Grove continues and maintains excellent programs and services, it is constantly innovating and creating new programs as demands and needs of the people and families supported evolve over time.”

Students who enroll in the program agree to work for Orange Grove for a period of two years. Students who complete the full program and pass the State test are eligible for pay raises commensurate with their certification and experience.