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Nonprofit hopes to spur workers to enter health care in Baltimore and beyond

A new nonprofit spearheaded by established Baltimore business leaders wants to give residents of Baltimore and cities nationwide the resources they need to kick-start their careers in health care, from free training to subsidized housing.

Jack Dwyer, owner of Capital Funding Group and CFG Bank, and Barb Clapp, founder and former CEO of Clapp Communications, have launched Dwyer Workforce Development, a new model for addressing both systemic poverty and the workforce shortage in the health care industry.

It aims to recruit unemployed and underemployed people, as well as veterans, young people who are not interested in college, and anyone else who may be struggling to find a career path, to study to be a certified and/or geriatric nursing assistant — at no cost. The trainings and space for the trainings will be offered through partnerships with local organizations (in Baltimore, Dwyer Workforce Development’s first training partner is the nonprofit Living Classrooms, to which Dwyer is a contributor).

After the students — called “scholars” in the program — complete their training, they are placed into jobs at local nursing homes or long-term care facilities. If a scholar stays with the job for a certain period, the program will provide scholarships for them to go on to nursing school, where they will be trained to be a registered nurse — a high paying job in Maryland, especially as the workforce shortage has encouraged many hospitals to raise their wages and offer new benefits.

“This is an unbelievable option for people coming right out of college or who don’t have a job, who are struggling,” said Dwyer.

Those are the program’s bare bones — and the form it is currently taking in Baltimore, its inaugural location. But Dwyer and Clapp have plans to expand the program to sites across the country and to add several other features as it grows.

In the future, for example, the program hopes to offer affordable housing and child care to its scholars; Dwyer wants to leverage his existing relationships with apartment developers through CFG Bank to provide housing for the scholars.

The program also plans to provide each scholar with a case manager to support them throughout their time in the program and in their job placement, in hopes of giving each scholar the resources to make it all the way to nursing school.

Clapp called the strategy a “holistic approach” to addressing the health care workforce shortage and one that no other organization has taken up to this point.

“We really feel like that kind of ecosystem that we’re trying to make will make their lives easier so they can accomplish their goals,” she said.

Health care labor shortages predate the pandemic; working as a CNA or a GNA, for example, was long seen as a thankless profession that paid less than other, easier jobs, such as working in retail or fast food, Dwyer said, though those wages have since increased.

COVID-19 has further exacerbated the problem. Women, in particular, have left the workforce in swaths amid the pandemic, something that has been attributed in part to the difficulty of finding affordable child care. The stress of working during the pandemic also caused many hospital and nursing home staffers to experience burnout and, ultimately, leave their jobs.

“While you and I are hibernating in our houses during the pandemic … they’re there every day, fighting it every day,” Dwyer said.

Dwyer and Clapp hope that the perks of the program will attract more people into the profession.

In addition, by filling more CNA and GNA positions as well as  by incentivizing those workers to stay in their jobs for several years, Dwyer Workforce Development program aims to improve conditions for seniors living in long-term care facilities.

If, as a senior in a nursing home, “you’re seeing a different (CNA or GNA) every day, you’re disoriented, you don’t even know where you are,” Dwyer said. “If you know the person coming in, that just provides better outcomes for the patients.”

The program launched in July, and its inaugural cohort is set to finish training in time to begin working by early spring 2022. Dwyer Workforce Development is currently recruiting 200 scholars to participate in the program in the coming year.