When I founded the American Muslim Senior Society (AMSS), an interfaith, not-for-profit health and long-term care organization in 2017, it was natural that we address the social determinants of health that challenge low-income Montgomery County residents 55 and older, as well as their families. To develop culturally-sensitive programs reflective of the county's diverse communities, with partnered with interfaith and community leaders and trained culturally diverse Ambassadors to help us identify persons in need. We held many community dialogues to find out their issues of concern and found out that having access to food, financial security, and culturally sensitive caregiving were essential to their health and wellness.
So we started the AMSS Halal Meals on Wheels program in 2019, which provides 500 50+ AMSS clients and their households with wraparound services. AMSS Ambassadors offer companionship, deliver weekly packages of nourishing food, and link them to healthcare and social services. We continue to target the county's communities of color experiencing health disparities, including: White Oak, Colesville/Silver Spring, Burtonsville, Aspen Hill, Wheaton, Rockville, Germantown, and Gaithersburg. Our clients are African American (50%), Asian (30%), Hispanic (10%), and white (10%), including Middle-Eastern and other cultures.
In 2019 we also started the AMSS Certified Nursing Assistant Scholarship and Employment Pilot Program to provide multi-cultural, low income, younger members of the same above communities with scholarships for training as Certified Nurse Assistants (CNAs). The program served a two-fold purpose. First, the program graduates filled a critical need for individuals who could provide culturally sensitive healthcare for older residents in the community. And second, the new healthcare workers gained economic stability and careers with advancement opportunities. The program, offered in partnership with Morning Star Training Academy and CarePlus Inc. Home Health Agency, has recruited, trained, graduated, and helped secure employment for 86 CNAs.
We recruited potential trainees through community activities and partnerships, vetted them to ensure each was a good fit for healthcare work and required them to pay a small portion of their training cost to validate their dedication. The AMSS program supports candidates through training and job hunting and follows up with them post-placement.
Potential candidates are evaluated based on the program's acceptance conditions, including the ability to speak English, holding a Green Card, being Montgomery County residents, and having a desire to help and care for older people. Individuals who meet the criteria receive underwriting and support from AMSS. The cost of their preparation to enter the Certified Nursing Assistant Program at Morning Star Academy in Gaithersburg is covered. That includes background checks and fingerprinting and anything else needed to ensure educational success (i.e., transportation, food, and appropriate clothing).
We are succeeding in addressing our healthcare crisis in the best way possible by increasing our pool of workers and adding diversity so that we have people who can provide culturally appropriate care. We are also opening doors to employment stability for a group of people who seem to need it most. And the program makes good financial sense. The return is $10.88 per dollar invested. That's because skilled nursing facilities and hospitals with adequate staffing don't need to pay agencies higher rates to fill critical vacancies.
The AMSS program also provides more than 800 hours of volunteer services to the project, saving $45,000 in staff and contractor fees.
Together, we can solve the crisis we are experiencing in our healthcare workforce here in Montgomery County, elsewhere around this country, and perhaps the globe. Since the pandemic, there have been too few healthcare workers, and that puts us at risk.
The Primary Care Coalition/Nexus partnership recently funded through Worksource Montgomery additional training for another 20 certified nurse assistants and 12 healthcare technicians, which will help further address the healthcare workforce crisis in Montgomery County.
Yes, it takes a village (albeit an international one) to solve Montgomery County's healthcare crisis, but we are on our way to getting it done. I invite others to help us expand our current healthcare training program and find new ways to boost our healthcare workforce and improve the well-being of our older residents and younger neighbors alike.
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Mona Negm is Egyptian American and has lived in Silver Spring for more than 50 years. She holds an undergraduate degree in sociology from Howard University and a master's in human development and aging from the University of Maryland. She completed a fellowship in ethno-geriatric long-term care from Stanford University.