Friday’s graduation may have been simple – red velvet cake, punch and the signing of certificates – but it was a victory for the six certified nursing assistant students and their instructors who a week ago weren’t sure the class would be able to finish.
After completing the required 100 classroom hours for the program, the students were about to begin their 50 hours of clinical work when the staff at the American Institute for Medical Careers told them the state had shut down their program.
“I think everybody’s jaw dropped,” student Amanda Baggarley said.
They were told the owners of their institution had neglected to file proper paperwork to keep the business going, and that as a result, the school had to close.
The state granted their class permission to finish – but the teachers and administrators, who said they haven’t been paid since owner Cullen Fowler moved out of the state in mid-October, had to stay on a voluntarily basis.
One other class, an emergency medical technician training, will also be allowed to finish, but with the rent on the institution’s East Boone Avenue facility not paid for the last month and a half, the students will have to meet elsewhere. An eviction notice was placed on the school’s door Thursday, listing an owed sum of $2,260.
Administrative assistant Karin Heikkila, one of four employees plus one contractor working for the school, said the business was doing well and had 200 nursing assistant students and 40 EMT students through September of this year. At tuition of $875 for each nursing student and $1,400 for each EMT student, Heikkila said she doesn’t know how the company could have gone downhill so fast.
“I have not seen the books,” Heikkila said. “All I know is that I was not getting paychecks.”
Donn Moyer, spokesman for the Washington state Department of Health, said the state was missing three documents from the school that were required to keep the certified nursing assistant program running. Two of the documents, he said, were agreements between the school and the nursing facilities it was using for the students’ clinical hours. The other form was a notification required each time an institution hires a new instructor.
Moyer said Department of Health staff sent several communications to Fowler about the missing paperwork and then issued the notification to close the training operation on Nov. 19.
Reached by phone Friday, Fowler declined to comment on the business’s finances, including whether he has paid his employees. He said the state had nothing to do with his decision to close the business he and his family started last year.
Fowler said he sent the required paperwork and the state just never received it. He said his family left the business in the care of employees and hoped to find someone else to take over, but when they failed after about a month of trying, they decided to close the business.
While the students in the nursing program were able to graduate, Heikkila said they still don’t have their first aid and CPR cards because the Fowlers are also in debt to Inland Northwest Health Services, which issues the cards.
As for the other programs the school offers, which include CPR classes and training on handling patients with HIV or AIDS, Heikkila said there is no infrastructure left in place to offer them even though the state didn’t shut those down directly.
Another nursing assistant class was scheduled to start Thursday, Heikkila said, but she has been working with those students to help them apply for tuition reimbursements from the state.
The students who graduated Friday said they chose the American Institute for Medical Careers because of its 95 percent job placement rate and the training schedule. It was one of the few programs that offered 150 hours of training, all during the day and within three weeks.
“This was one of the most respected schools,” student Codie Hancock said.
Another student said her sister went through the program and recommended it.
When they were told of the problems going on behind the scenes, “I wondered what I’d gotten myself into,” student Saundra Sinclair said.
They said they were grateful the instructors and administrators stayed to teach without being paid, ensuring the students wouldn’t have to repeat their 100 hours of classroom time.
Heikkila said she hopes the students don’t look down on their education, as their training and the school’s vision were solid.
“I don’t want the students to feel bad about their certification,” she said. “I need them to be proud of being in the medical profession.”