SHERIDAN — Whitney Benefits will fund a part-time instructor dedicated to the Certified Nursing Assistant program at Sheridan College, officials announced Friday.

College officials estimate that there are 250 CNAs employed throughout Sheridan and Johnson counties, with an approximate turnover of almost 50 percent in long-term care facilities annually.

“We all have the highest expectations from professionals working in the health care field, and our CNAs play an absolutely vital role,” Whitney Benefits Trustee Maureen Humphrys said. “It is important for the sustainability of our entire health care system that we keep the pipeline full of people interested in a medical career. Becoming a CNA is often the first step down that path.”

The three-year grant, worth $185,400, will assist in the planning, implementing, revising and evaluating of the CNA educational programs and the students’ clinical experiences. The faculty member will also teach in both a formal classroom as well as at the clinical sites.

“Certified Nursing Assistants play a key part in the lives of their patients and their patients’ families,” Whitney Benefits Trustee Robert Prusak said.

“This type of partnership, one that will strengthen an already great program, is an action that I am certain would make Edward A. Whitney proud,” Prusak said.

Sheridan College’s accredited CNA program trains students to thrive in a variety of settings, including hospitals and assisted living facilities, under the supervision of registered nurses and licensed practical nurses. CNAs are an important dynamic of health care, said Trudy Munsick, Dean of Health Sciences at Sheridan College.

“Our CNA program has a track record of success, with many of our students earning good jobs right after graduation,” Munsick said. “Our students and our community benefit by the generous support of the Whitney Benefits foundation. The continued support for the Nursing Program at Sheridan College ensures that our program will remain top-notch far into the future and will allow us to better prepare our students for the changing landscape of the health care industry.”

A 2011 report from the Department of Workforce Services projected nearly 5,700 new health care jobs will arise in Wyoming between 2010 and 2020. An additional 22,365 openings will need to be filled during that timeframe due to permanent exits. The Department estimates 160 annual CNAs openings in Wyoming.

This grant builds on a rich history of support for the Sheridan College nursing program from Whitney Benefits. Students in the program may choose to take their education from the CNA level all the way through the baccalaureate level without leaving Sheridan. This is possible, in part, through the addition of a Whitney Benefits Endowed Nursing Chair position, in 2008, which strengthened the partnership with the University of Wyoming. Students may also participate in the Whitney Health Professionals Educational Experiences project, also established in 2008, funding opportunities for educational experiences, such as student preceptorships, nursing experiences outside the U.S. and further education for community health professionals.