A group of certified nurse assistant (CNA) training providers in Minnesota has filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of the state’s COVID-era initiative to offer free and competing CNA services. The lawsuit, filed on Thursday in a Minnesota federal court, alleges that the state’s program constitutes unlawful price-fixing, violating U.S. antitrust laws.
Twin Cities Safety, operating under the name HeartCert, along with other plaintiffs, argue that the state’s free CNA training initiative has had a detrimental impact on their businesses. The lawsuit claims that the state’s efforts, facilitated through various grant agreements, have created an uneven playing field, making it impossible for private training providers to compete with a government-sponsored program that offers the same training at no cost, reported Reuters.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced the initiative in late 2021 as a response to the staffing shortages faced by long-term care facilities. The state aimed to recruit and train more nursing assistants, surpassing its goal of 1,000 recruits. Governor Walz commended the collaboration between the state, universities, and private training providers.
However, the lawsuit argues that the free program has led potential students to favor the state-sponsored option over private training services, resulting in significant economic harm to the plaintiffs and other CNA training providers. The complaint asserts that students are unwilling to pay for CNA training when they can access similar services for free at high schools or colleges participating in the state’s initiative.
Doug Anderson, a spokesperson for Minnesota’s state higher education system, defended the state’s program, stating, “We are proud of the important work that has been done through the Next Generation Nursing Assistant training program to address the critical shortage of Certified Nursing Assistants in Minnesota, and we are confident we will prevail in this litigation.”
The lawsuit challenges the notion that public governments are shielded from antitrust liability, arguing that Minnesota is not immune because its programs were not “affirmatively expressed as state policy.” The plaintiffs seek an injunction to halt Minnesota’s CNA training program, which covers the costs of tuition, books, materials, and a certification exam.