Wisconsin’s $6M CNA Training Investment Could Serve as Model For Other States

While the staffing crisis continues to have devastating impacts on nursing homes across the country, some states are expanding stopgap measures to recruit and retain positions that are in many ways the backbone of the industry – the certified nursing assistant (CNA).

Such initiatives in states like California, Minnesota and Wisconsin come at a time when federal programs like the temporary nurse aide (TNA) waiver, linked to the public health emergency (PHE), sunset this year. States aren’t alone in their CNA programs; many operators like Mission Health Communities have their own in-house training for the role.

Wisconsin last week launched an expansion to its workforce initiative, WisCaregiver Careers, thanks to a $6 million investment approved by Gov. Tony Evers. The first iteration of WisCaregiver Careers in 2018 was funded at about $500,000, according to Rick Abrams, CEO of the Wisconsin Health Care Association (WHCA).


“Our goal was to train 475 candidates to be certified nursing assistants and we accomplished that – and again, the funding was less than one-tenth of the expansion of $6 million,” said Abrams. “This is a very, very aggressive new endeavor.”

More than 3,500 CNAs have received training through the program, according to the state Department of Health Services.

Depending on the success of the program, that funding could go well into 2023, according to WHCA and LeadingAge Wisconsin. The associations are administering the program throughout the state.


Expansion efforts include $500 retention bonuses for prospective CNAs and a mentorship component. Mentors would also receive a $500 bonus through the program.

More than 240 employers have registered to participate in the free program, according to the state DHS. There are about 350 facilities in the state, according to John Sauer, president and CEO of LeadingAge Wisconsin. He hopes the additional funding will be enough incentive for other employers to join the program.

Just a month prior to Wisconsin’s expansion, the California Health and Human Services Department awarded LeadingAge California a $25 million grant to help expand the association’s Gateway-In Project, which launched mid-June.

Funding will be spread over three years, as LeadingAge California works to add 2,700 CNAs and home health aides (HHAs) into the pipeline.

Earlier in the year, Minnesota’s Next Generation of Nursing Assistant initiative surpassed its goal of recruiting 1,000 CNAs as of March; the program was infused with another $6.7 million to continue the program this year, with another $13.3 million proposed for the state’s 2024-2025 budget.

Mission Health’s in-house CNA program had 400 graduates as of April with a target graduate count of 750 by the end of the year. The program had a 92% retention rate and a 50% reduction in agency usage after its launch in the summer of 2021.

The Wisconsin program not only removes significant financial barriers that have long been in the way of CNA training in the state, it’s an “important experiment” for the nation, as other states look to Wisconsin and Minnesota to build their own pipeline.

“When I speak with my colleagues in other states, they are very, very excited and certainly optimistic and hopeful that this is a successful program. This is an experiment that could easily expand across the nation,” said Abrams.

Sauer said the program is a great opportunity for prospective employees to see how rewarding the CNA path can be, while receiving income at the same time. That’s what the associations are looking to expand on, if this iteration is successful – building a career ladder for CNAs once they receive their certification.

“What Wisconsin’s doing is putting things in the right order,” added Sauer. “We know that there was a staffing challenge before the pandemic. We know that it was greatly exacerbated during the pandemic, and we know that the workforce crisis is not going to go away soon.”

Not only will the Wisconsin program be expanded, but funding will go toward a statewide multi-media campaign for recruiting purposes. A new website, including a map of currently registered employers, is one of several campaign tools for the program.