Necessity is the mother of invention. Invention’s twin sibling: adaptation.

When faced with need, humankind has amazing ability to find creative solutions. Tired of eating raw food? Invent fire! Weary of traveling miles by foot? Invent the wheel! The pages of history are filled with examples of adaptations, but need knows no time boundaries.

In these early years of the twenty first century, St. John’s United finds itself in greatest need of nursing professionals. In any given week, St. John’s United functions with an average shortage of twelve nurses and fifty certified nursing assistants (CNAs), impacting our ability to deliver expert care for older adults. Health care needs for people of all ages currently outpaces the availability of nursing student graduates. In a state like Montana, ranked fifth in oldest population in the nation, this situation is untenable.

What drives the shortage of nursing professionals? First and foremost, a competitive marketplace in terms of compensation for
nurses exists in communities with multiple hospitals and senior health care providers. In terms of education, a limited number of highly competitive nursing education slots are available for those pursuing careers as LPNs, RNs, and BSNs. Many students desiring to become nurses simply cannot obtain the course work. For some, the cost of higher education and realities of student debt are barriers to furthering their educations. Lastly, the availability and interchangeable nature of employment opportunities in the service economy contributes to the shortage of CNAs in Montana.

Rather than lamenting the reasons for the shortages and accepting less than full staffing, the St. John’s United Board and executive leadership have implemented a solution known as the St. John’s United Nursing Apprentice/ Fellowship. The program is designed to provide CNA work experience to students as early as their junior year of high school while offering tuition credits that will be applied to their college tuition costs up to $8,000 per year. Ideally, apprentices will graduate tuition-debt free.

To accomplish the education part of the program, St. John’s has partnered with Billings Public Schools high school Career Center and Miles City Community College. The Career Center currently employs St. John’s nursing staff to teach CNA courses for high school students. Miles City Community College has agreed to reserve student applicant slots each year specifically for St. John’s apprentices. City College – MSUB has been an eager participant in conversations, and while they are not able to reserve student slots, they earnestly welcome its already-selected nursing students to participate in the St. John’s program.

Upon graduation, some of the nursing apprentices may continue work within St. John’s communities for many years. Others may seek employment elsewhere in Billings, relocate to another community or out-ofstate. In either case, apprentices leave St. John’s having received first-class health care experience with no obligation to St. John’s.

The apprentice/fellowship program has been endowed for its initial phase by the Bruno and Evelyne Betti Foundation with a generous gift of $1,000,000, with an additional matching gift challenge of $500,000. Already, $310,000 has been gifted by donors for the match according to Tom Schlotterback, Vice President of Mission Advancement for St. John’s. The matching challenge ends March 31, 2021.

Evelyne Betti was the aunt of longtime St. John’s supporter and board member, Stan Hill. “Born in Central Montana, Evelyne always had a soft spot for the state of Montana and its people,” recounts Hill. “Her desire was to help children develop into fine human beings and citizens. She wanted to see children become responsible adults who would do meaningful things with their lives and make a positive difference in the world.”

Though the Bettis were never acquainted with St. John’s, Hill personally witnessed SJU’s deep commitment to resident care during the years his mother was a resident at The Vista on the main campus in Billings. He remains grateful to this day for the love and dignity his mother experienced. Upon learning of the nursing apprentice program, and understanding the vision of his aunt and uncle’s legacy, Hill linked the St. John’s Foundation and the Betti Foundation together for common good.

Born out of scarcity and obstacles, and then incubated in gratitude with a desire for common good, the nursing apprentice/fellowship program holds great promise for meeting resident needs today and tomorrow at St. John’s United.