New Revelstoke health care graduates prepare for COVID-19 front line

The latest group of students to complete Okanagan College's Health Care Assistant Certificate program are entering the workforce at a crucial time in healthcare.

This group of new graduates are entering the workforce just as COVID-19 is starting to spread rapidly across the country. (Front row left to right: Sonya Riome, Elyse Poitras, Robyn Conway. Back row left to right: Halle Wolgram, Mayuri Mackvan, Sandi Haukaas, Susan Whyte, Alexis Templeton, Anne McKenzie, Tara Brunetti) Photo: Cara Smith/Revelstoke Mountaineer

If there was ever a time to recognize the importance of healthcare workers in our community, it’s now. As we’re faced with what could be unprecedented strains on our healthcare system, there are a group of new graduates getting ready to enter the workforce in especially challenging conditions.

The latest cohort of students have just graduated from Okanagan College’s Health Care Assistant Certificate program at the Okanagan College Revelstoke Centre. Despite the fact that they were be serving those most at risk when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, they seem optimistic about making a difference in our community.

Health care assistants help clients with aspects of daily life that may be a struggle for them, including personal hygiene, nutrition, and mobility. This type of work is usually done for older individuals in a variety of settings from health care facilities and private community agencies to clients’ homes.

Last week, we caught up with some of the students as they finished up their last practicum day at Mt. Cartier Court, a living facility for people with complex health needs. These facilities are at a very high risk for COVID-19 outbreaks, meaning the work of these essential jobs, among the lowest paid in the health care system, are critical to safeguarding both their patients and the the health of the greater community. Each of them spoke about the dignity and respect they feel those in their care deserve, but each had different motivations for choosing the program.

Sandi Haukaas

Photo: Cara Smith/Revelstoke Mountaineer

Sandi Haukaas says she chose this program because she enjoys helping people who can no longer care for themselves.

“These people have had a long life and they deserve the respect and dignity to be helped by people who are wanting to help them,” she says.

“It’s important because these people I feel created the foundation that we’re enjoying for our lives now.”

Haukaas hopes to go on to work at Mt. Cartier Court permanently.

Mayuri Mackvan

Photo: Cara Smith/Revelstoke Mountaineer

Mayuri Mackvan is partially motivated by the rise in dementia in older people, something she says is challenging, but important work.

“This is just a disease that’s taking them away from their personality and who they were,” she says. “As time changes, we are getting longer lifetimes. That’s why there is a big need for people to be taken care of.”

Halle Wolgram

Photo: Cara Smith/Revelstoke Mountaineer

Halle Wolgram comes from a family of carers. Her mother completed the health care assistant program at Okanagan College two years ago and her grandmother works as a registered nurse.

“It just seems like a good job for us to be caring for people,” she says. “I knew a lot of the people [at Mt. Cartier Court] before I came into this because my family’s been here for a long time, so it’s nice to be caring for the people that you’ve known previously.”

Since they most often work with the elderly, health care assistants are on the frontlines of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only are they tasked with keeping those who are most at risk healthy, but are putting their own well-being at risk through their work. A number of COVID-19 outbreaks in B.C. have originated in care homes, a common worksite for health care assistants.

Health care assistants are considered to be a priority occupation by WorkBC. The organization predicts that there will be nearly 18,000 openings in the field over the next ten years. But as COVID-19 spreads and targets the elderly and vulnerable, the work of health care assistants will become more crucial than ever.