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Crystal Nurse Providing Path For African Americans To Enter Medical Field During Pandemic

CRYSTAL, Minn. (WCCO) -- As COVID-19 puts a strain on hospitals, Latasha Lee continues to provide a pathway for more African Americans to enter the healthcare field. Lee is a registered nurse and the owner of Healthy Helpful Insight Healthcare Institute (HHIHI) in Crystal.

Since WCCO first shared her story in July, the certified nursing assistant school was granted a two-year approval following a state inspection. Lee is now allowed to have 10 students per class, up from three during the provisional licensing period.

"My goal in building the school was to help bring other black men and women to the healthcare sector," Lee said. "Bridging the gap between the people providing the care and people receiving the care is really important because there is a trust component. A lot of things that are related to medicine come with trust."

More than 10 students have completed the five-week course so far, including Kyla Cade. She passed her state examination on the first try and currently works at one of HHIHI's nursing home partners providing automatic job placement for students completing their CNA certification.

"It's a nice feeling because I always like look at the people, like the nurses and doctors in scrubs like, oh that's so cool," Cade said. "Now I have my own pair. It's like a sense of like pride and stuff. I worked hard to get here."

Cade first learned about the HHIHI program from her mother and signed up during the pandemic.

"I just wasn't sure what was going to happen. I hadn't been going out that much so I was just like a bit leery. But also, I'm a big people person and I just love helping people out," Cade said.

Help could not come at a better time, as the need for healthcare workers remains high nationwide. In early February, Minnesota had about 15,000 openings for nursing assistants. The state announced plans to train and deploy at least 1,000 new CNAs by the end of last month.

Though Cade did not participate in the state's effort, she said skills learned in the HHIHI classroom prepared her to make a difference. She hopes to become a registered nurse in the future.

"I feel good. It's always nice seeing some of the residents," Cade said. "It's just the little things that seem bigger to them and It makes me feel good to know that I can be someone that puts a smile on their face for that day."

Lee said she is committed to her students long-term.

"It's a lifelong commitment," Lee said. "When they come in I kind of tell them that right off the bat. I am your instructor. We are going to learn here but if there is something that you need today, tomorrow, in the future, please call me. I'm willing to assist you however I can. Most of them have called me several time after graduating. It's very amazing."

She shared her vision for the school in years to come.

"My hopes and dreams for the future is that the school will grow and I will outgrow this space," Lee said. "I will need a bigger space and I will need a staff. A lot of my students want to make a difference. They want to help. They want to grow and they want to be a part of a chance. They want to decrease health disparities in whatever way they can. It makes me feel good knowing that I am part of the change and I'm not just talking about a change. I'm helping to make the change."

Lee said she wants more students to complete the program and shared more male CNAs are needed. Some scholarships are available for Healthy Helpful Insight Healthcare Institute. In addition to CNA instruction, HHIHI also offers instructor-led CPR/AED/First Aid Training. Visit the website to learn more.

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