Some Greene Valley Developmental Center employees are busy learning new skills that could help them secure other work when the facility eventually closes.

Nineteen Greene Valley employees started Certified Nursing Assistant training at the center's campus last week.

So far, four other classes -- 55 workers in all -- have graduated the four-week program, taught by an instructor from the Tennessee College of Applied Technology of Morristown.

"We are trying to provide our employees with skills they can take with them when Greene Valley closes," said Jane Bailey, staff development director at the center. "They have already had extensive training specific to Greene Valley. Other caretakers are amazed at the training our employees have had here."

TCAT officials say the employees' previous training at the center led to the creation of an expedited, four-week program.

"We were aware that if they had met Greene Valley's employment and educational requirements, they would not need the full 120 hours required for regular CNA classes," said Karen Harris, director of nursing for TCAT Morristown. "Therefore, when we applied to the Tennessee Department of Health for approval of a CNA class on-site at GVDC, we requested a 76-hour class and were granted approval."

With the state footing the bill, 100 or more Greene Valley employees are expected to take the training and obtain CNA credentials.

"Any time we have had a large reduction in force associated with the closure of one of our developmental centers, we have used every available resource to assist our employees in finding employment elsewhere," said Cara Kumari, communications director for DIDD. "We have been thrilled so many employees at Greene Valley have been interested in this training and hope it will assist them in their future endeavors."

According to Bailey, an education fee waiver program for all state employees pays for Greene Valley employees' CNA training tuition costs, while the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities covers other expenses, like books and uniforms.

"After the closure of Greene Valley was announced in early 2015, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development held group meetings with GVDC employees to discuss options available," Bailey said. "During one of those meetings, an employee asked about offering CNA certification classes. Having this certification could assist employees in finding jobs in a health care field, doing work similar to what they were doing at Greene Valley."

Employees taking the courses have been able to take exams to prove their mastery of areas of the curriculum -- already required of Greene Valley employees -- like infection control, safety and residents' rights.

According to Harris, the first class of 2016 from the center graduated 15 students with a 100 percent pass rate on the state's certification test.

While the course is free and covers material already familiar to Greene Valley employees, the undertaking is anything but "easy," officials say.

"Employees complete this training on personal time," Bailey explained. "They continue to work their regular shift and then attend class for six and a half hours."

The course schedule is demanding for already working adults who are no longer accustomed to the classroom, said Betty Jo "Cookie" Kiser, a Greene Valley employee since 1988.

Kiser completed CNA certification in 2015 and has since transferred to the center's respiratory therapy department from the recreation department, which is no longer staffed, even though recreational opportunities remain available to the facility's residents.

"I went into work early and got off and literally walked across the street for classes. It was an eye-opener for me as far as trying to work and go to school," Kiser said. "I've worked here for many years. I loved what I did. But, things are changing and we have to change with the times. It was kind of scary for me, though, about being older and thinking about going back to school."

Now, Kiser said she's got more confidence in her ability to learn new skills for jobs she'd never considered before.

"It's made a tremendous difference for me," she said. "I'm taking vital signs and assisting with EKGs, leading clients to therapy and sanitizing equipment. I'd always dealt with individuals here in fun, leisurely activities. Now I'm going medical and I never, ever thought I'd do that."

Other employee support programs enacted as Greene Valley's closure plan was put into effect include needs assessments from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, unemployment insurance, resume preparation and job-seeking assistance through a "mobile career coach" and job fairs.

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