Eastern Arizona College’s phlebotomy program for law enforcement officers from across the state is going well, said Carolyn McCormies, EAC’s director of nursing and the division chair for the college’s nursing and allied health program.

With funding from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, EAC’s program is one of the first college programs in the state that not only teaches the program online, but has its professors travel to participating police departments and police academies to teach in-person.

Officers in Arizona can draw blood from people suspected of driving under the influence after either getting consent from someone who’s been pulled over or after receiving an electronic warrant from a judge.

Last year officers across the state took 6,000 blood samples from people, said Alberto Gutier, GOHS director.

Five thousand to 6,000 officers around the state are already certified in phlebotomy and allowed to draw blood samples from people, Gutier said, but with most of the training services in the state’s metropolitan centers like Maricopa and Pima counties, rural officers have to travel to classes at Phoenix College or Pima Community College to take the classes. In an effort to train more rural officers, the GOHS started an initiative to set up more phlebotomy training at smaller community colleges throughout the state.

EAC’s program started over the summer with participants from Phoenix Police Department and the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, all of whom passed the class, McCormies said.

“They are very good at what they do when they finish this course,” McCormies said.

More than 100 law enforcement officers from across the state are on a waiting list for the course, McCormies said, including one officer from Safford’s police department who wants to take the course to refresh their skills.

The GOHS schedules which police departments get to take the course when based on “greatest need and greatest demand,” McCormies said.

Back in June, Clifton Chief of Police Omar Negrete said his department only has one sergeant who has phlebotomy training. Knowing that EAC has a phlebotomy course closer to home than Tucson, where the sergeant went for training, will be helpful in getting more of the cops in his department trained.

Greenlee County Sheriff Tim Sumner said he has five phlebotomists on staff, all of whom were trained at Pima Community College.

He’d like at least two other staff members trained, including one at the jail.

He’s glad his deputies and corrections officers will soon be able to train locally.

Graham County Sheriff’s Department has one deputy with phlebotomy training on staff as well, a deputy that the department often has to loan out to other local law enforcement agencies to draw blood from people, according to Undersheriff Jeff McCormies.

With the department itself doing an estimated six to 10 blood draws from people per month, McCormies said they hope to get more people from the department into training to relieve pressure on the one already trained deputy.

Certified Caregivers

Law enforcement officers aren’t the only ones who have had to travel to obtain special certification. McCormies recently became aware that those who want to become certified caregivers also have to travel to receive their certificates.

As a result, she said she plans to look into the possibility of seeing to their needs, too.

Certified caregivers work in assisted living homes and facilities and help patients with everyday activities such as mobility, eating and bathing. Unlike certified nursing assistants, certified caregivers are also allowed to dispense patient medications.

People wanting to get a caregiving certification have to travel out of town to mostly private training programs, a majority of which are in the Phoenix metro area, said Fawn Kilpatrick, manager of BeeHive Homes of the Gila Valley.

Pima Community College in Tucson, Yavapai College in Prescott Valley and Mohave Community College in Kingman also offer certified caregiving programs.

Valerie Hernandez, the manager of Essential Patient Care, an assisted living home in Safford, said she had to get back and forth from classes in Phoenix twice a month for six months.

“You definitely have to travel,” Hernandez said about getting the certificate.

At her facility, she has both CNAs and certified caregivers on staff, some of whom hold both certificates.

Thanks to Eastern Arizona College’s nursing program, those who apply for jobs at BeeHive hold other credentials and licenses, like patient care technicians, licensed nursing assistants and certified nursing assistants, Kilpatrick said.

“A lot of people haven’t even heard of a certified caregiver,” even people applying for jobs at BeeHive, she said.

Kilpatrick said BeeHive will pay for staff to take those classes to become certified caregivers. In fact, thanks to COVID-19, some programs give students the option to take the certificate program online, but, Kilpatrick said she has not seen an increase in people applying for jobs at BeeHive with certified caregiver credentials.

Like Kilpatrick, Hernandez said she tries to work with staff members who want to get certified in caregiving but haven’t had the chance to yet.

“I’ve been going to school and working full time and I’m a mother, so I understand,” Hernandez said. “I try to think, ‘How can I help you?’”

Although both Hernandez and Kilpatrick said that operations at their businesses aren’t hampered by a lack of certified caregivers in particular, Hernandez said that they, and most other rural assisted living homes, are always in need of more certified and licensed healthcare workers and even volunteers who can spend time with residents and participate in activities with them.

“You can never have enough,” Hernandez said, especially when operating assisted living facilities that require staffing 24 hours a day. It’s a situation that, when added on top of the stress of having to travel hours to take classes to get certified, could lead to employee burnout and people leaving the field, she said.

“It is a hard life for a caregiver,” she said. “Caregivers do so much and often time they’re underpaid.”

Although certified caregivers aren’t needed in nursing homes, J.D. Sitchler, Haven Health Safford executive director, said he’s also worried about staff burnout.

“Everyone’s just a little exhausted,” Sitchler said. “There’s people working more overtime than there ever has been before.”

Although he wouldn’t say he has a staffing problem, Sitchler did say it’s often difficult scheduling staff and that his staff works overtime, often.

“Do we need more staff? Everyone needs more staff. It’s a global issue,” Sitchler said. “You can always use more staff. That’s a given, but that’s everywhere around the country.”

Haven has a good relationship with EAC’s nursing program, Sitchler said. The school’s nursing program has all the training necessary for someone to work at Haven, Sitchler said. While he hasn’t dealt with retention problems because of burnout, Sitchler said he has had a number of staff members resign to either go to EAC to get more advanced nursing degrees than they already had, or go to other medical schools.

Hernandez said she also doesn’t have a problem with staff retention because she tries to be conscious of what her staff are going through and the realities of the difficulties of their jobs.

“I think it’s all about leadership and being productive and willing to listen to feedback, even when it’s not in your favor. People want to feel like they’re in the right spot and it’s fair.”

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