New Salem program targets training for bilingual EMTs, health workers

EMTs with Metro West Ambulance prep for patients at a drive-thru Covid vaccination clinic in Woodburn (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Marin Arreola has seen the need for Spanish-speaking health care providers firsthand.

He worked with the Interface Network, a community health organization, to organize Covid testing and vaccination events across the Salem area for much of the pandemic. 

Latinos both statewide and in Marion County had much higher rates of infection from Covid than their white counterparts, so the organization partnered with local ambulance companies and medical providers to publicize events in Spanish and ensure interpreters were on site. 

Many providers, Arreola said, expressed a desire for more staffing and more providers who could speak Spanish.

“The need for bilingual, bicultural workers was a big, big issue,” Arreola said. “The pandemic really exposed that need from all areas.”

Now, he’s leading a project to help close the gap.

The Salem-based Interface Network recently received two grants from the Willamette Workforce Partnership for programs to train about 24 bilingual emergency medical technicians and 40 community health workers in the next year.

It’s part of the Future Ready Oregon workforce training initiative, a $200 million package Gov. Kate Brown signed in April that’s intended to get more Oregonians qualified to work in high-wage, high-demand fields including health care, construction and manufacturing.

A portion of that money is set aside for local workforce development boards like Willamette Workforce Partnership, which serves Marion, Polk, Yamhill and Linn counties.

The partnership received $1.9 million in its first round of funding, executive director Kim Parker-Llerenas said, and is expecting more in the fall.

Ami Maceira, the partnership’s program director, said they wanted to use their money for grants to organizations who had existing connections with groups the Future Ready Oregon package is intended to serve: low-income Oregonians, people of color, women, veterans and those living in rural areas.

She said many people in those groups don’t typically walk into a workforce center seeking help, and overall visits dropped off during Covid. That led the workforce partnership to consider how they could best support people looking for work or seeking higher-wage jobs.

“How do we do our work differently in order to give people the opportunity?” Maceira said.

After seeking proposals in the spring, the workforce partnership awarded grants to seven organizations for job training programs to be completed by June 30, 2023.

Interface Network’s grants for the two programs total about $457,000.

They come as local health care providers are seeing an overall shortage of workers. Falck, the private ambulance company that serves Salem, currently has three open EMT positions and two paramedics, said John Goward, managing director of Falck Northwest.

“Staffing shortages have forced an increase in mandatory shift work and has put an increasing stress on our teams in the field. This has increased the cost of our operations in terms of pay for overtime shifts. Increasing mandatory overtime increases the risk of fatigue and burnout as well, as seen in public and private EMS systems across the U.S.,” he said in an email.

Through the Interface grant, Arreola will work to recruit prospective EMTs fluent in both Spanish and English. They’ll take classes at Chemeketa Community College’s Brooks campus, training together as a group and completing the course over winter and spring quarter, said Jordan Bermingham, dean of the Brooks campus.

Arreola said the program is designed to offer extra support like childcare and transportation stipends, so people who ordinarily might struggle to complete a college training program face fewer barriers. 

“Workforce development doesn’t really provide access for the most vulnerable,” he said. “It can be a very cold environment and I want to make sure the people we bring to the program feel that they’re not alone… That’s really important to me as a human being that they have that sense they can do this.”

Though EMT is typically a one-quarter course, Bermingham said Chemeketa will offer it over two quarters for the group to allow for extra help. They’ll also have more faculty teaching who can support students who are not native English speakers and work on writing skills.

Chemeketa doesn’t have a community health worker training, but is developing one and plans to roll out a five to 10-week course during winter quarter, Bermingham said.

He said Chemeketa wanted to partner on the grant because of the college’s federal designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution, which requires the college to enroll a significant number of low-income students and serve a student body that’s at least 25% Hispanic.

Arreola said he’s working to hire a coordinator to support the programs. Until then, those interested in either the EMT or community health workers program can email him at [email protected] for more information about registering.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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