By Colleen Chen, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A program designed to help nursing homes keep more helpers attending to residents is utilizing the slow economy to get more people trained for free.

The class size of OSU-OKC nursing aide students has doubled in the last few months in Oklahoma City, but the demand is two-fold. The balance between the need for CNAs in nursing homes and the need for stable jobs is helping each other out.

Miranda Matthews attended school and is now practicing her nursing aide skills, she's just one of many lined up to become a CNA.
She's also one of many who's had a hard time finding work.

"I have three children, was forced to move back in with my parents," Matthews said.

She and other students wanted a career with secure job security in the future.

"I'd been working retail warehouse for over six years and the first few years were okay, but lately they've been cutting off hours," student Francis Robertson said.

For some students, the scrubs, book and 96 hours of training are free.

"It's essential there is no way I would have the money to do this without it," Matthews said.

The students who qualify have to sign a contract to work.

"They have two years to complete 12 months of work at any Sooner Care facility," program representative Tony Lippe said.

The free factor is the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority's way of guaranteeing its own security. The number of CNA's needed will only grow as the number of people who will need care grows too.

"They're the eyes and ears of the nursing home," Lippe said. "They are the direct care worker in the home."

The pay for CNA's varies from$7 to $14 an hour. The certification is valuable because it can lead to higher paying certifications, which is why many people who take the class are simply mainstream students on track for a medical career.

The demand is so great that spots on the Oklahoma City campus are not available until April, but there are now 16 other training sites in the state with more to come.