Clinic & Foundation Launch Innovative Certification Program to Address Workforce Shortage

Clinic & Foundation Launch Innovative Certification Program to Address Workforce Shortage

January 6, 2022 – The North Shore Health Care Foundation (Foundation) is supporting the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic (SMC) to pilot a training certification program that will address a critical shortage of health care staffing. The Medical Assistant Training Program will provide a mechanism for ongoing workforce development to fill a need for Medical Assistants locally. The Foundation is providing $10,000 in grant funds to help SMC launch the program and train up to six Medical Assistants in 2022. Medical Assistants and/or LPNs are required to continue to provide vital health care service to patients in Cook County.

“There is an unprecedented shortage of Licensed Practical Nurses and a complete lack of certified Medical Assistants in our service area,” said Erin Watson, HR Director & Chief Operating Officer – Sawtooth Mountain Clinic. “Without these critical healthcare professionals, we cannot ensure access to the high-quality healthcare residents and visitors deserve and are accustomed to. Life here has always been challenging in unique ways; however, over the last few years compounding factors including the loss of local nursing education programs, a wave of retirements, an intensifying housing shortage, and our current childcare shortage, have created a dire need for innovative solutions to healthcare staffing and local workforce development.”

For over 43 years, it has been the mission of SMC to ensure access to high quality healthcare for the residents and visitors of Cook County, Minnesota and Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. At SMC and in healthcare more broadly, medical support staff are the linchpin to enabling consistent and timely access to essential medical services. These essential roles are entry-level or entry-level-adjacent positions. Higher-than-ever housing costs and extreme childcare shortages have also deterred potential applicants from outside of Cook County and Grand Portage from applying for or accepting positions here.


“In order to continue to fulfill our mission and to support the development of healthcare work and education opportunities within our community, we developed an innovative Clinical Assistant position in 2020,” said Watson. “As of today, we employ four SMC-trained Clinical Assistants. These individuals, all hired from within the community and trained in-house, assist in providing safe effective care, but we recognized early in 2021 as the pandemic persisted and local healthcare needs continued to increase, that we needed to find a more robust and stable long-term solution to this healthcare labor shortage.”


Through dialogue with the Minnesota Association of Community Health Centers (MNACHC) regarding this issue, we learned that MNACHC had begun exploring the possibility of piloting a licensed Medical Assistant (MA) Training/Apprenticeship program for Minnesota Community Health Centers. Since May of 2021, SMC has been working closely with MNACHC in the development of this training program.


“With the Foundation on board as a funder and supporter, we are now just days away from the launch of program that will lead to MA certification and enhanced opportunities for participants – a pathway to continued education, and perhaps most importantly, the stabilization and guaranteed continuation of essential healthcare services for all residents and visitors of our community,” said Watson.


“This is a prime example of why the North Shore Health Care Foundation exists,” said Valerie Marasco Eliasen, Executive Director – North Shore Health Care Foundation. “The Foundation proactively identifies opportunities to expand equitable health care and healthy living in Cook County and champions solutions through funding, education, and advocacy. We are proud to partner in this innovative initiative by providing the funding needed to launch a local health care accreditation program, as well as a solution to local health care needs that expands access for patients.”


Program Details:


  • Four current SMC employees and one new addition to the SMC team have been enrolled with the potential for one more through recruitment efforts, for a total of up to six participants in the first-year cohort of the Medical Assistant Training Program.
  • Training Program cost details:
    • Program development and implementation costs
      • Because this is the first program of its kind for Minnesota community health centers, significant time and effort has already been invested in the program. SMC’s Chief Operations Officer and Director of Nursing have been working on development of the program since May of 2021.
    • Ongoing program management and administrative oversight for Year 1; development and outreach efforts for Year 2 and subsequent years
    • Continued employment of two licensed LPNs to serve as the MA Coaches. These individuals will spend significant time supervising the training of all MA student-employees to ensure students are well-supported and successfully completing coursework.
    • MNACHC may contribute up to $1,500 to cover the tuition of one enrollee
  • NSHCF is providing $10,000 of grant funding to offset tuition and exam fee costs, and ensure the program can be launched in January of 2022.
  • SMC commits to continuing to assume administrative, development, outreach, and program management costs for Year 1, and beyond.



“We believe in the possibilities of people, organizations, businesses, and governments working together to create healthy communities,” said Marasco Eliasen, NSHCF Executive Director. “The Foundation and the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic value these opportunities to partner and support each other; this program is a shining example of organizations working together for a healthier Cook County all-around.”


Contact(s):  Erin Watson, HR Director & Chief Operating Officer – Sawtooth Mountain Clinic, 218-387-2330 or
Valerie Marasco Eliasen, Executive Director – North Shore Health Care Foundation, 218-387-5700 or

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