April 2, 2019
Stronger Together at THOP Memorial
Stronger Together at THOP Memorial
By Elsa Maria Garcia
Patient Services Manager, The Hospitals of Providence – Memorial Campus, El Paso, Texas
We have opportunities every day to make the lives of patients and café guests a little bit brighter. We also strive to improve our team members’ lives with professional opportunities. When we hire someone with disabilities, however, we recognize not just an opportunity to help someone enhance a person’s skill set, but truly change a life forever.
Not long ago, I hired a recent high school graduate as a dishwasher. He happened to have a developmental disability. Having had experience in Special Education, I know people with disabilities have plenty of skills but often face multiple challenges and end up at home. Alfredo could have been one of those students, but it was clear to me Morrison could contribute to his future and it would be very bright.
Alfredo and his classmate, Raul, came to work as interns at our hospital in August 2017 as a part of Project SEARCH, a program that began more than 20 years ago at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
Since then, Project SEARCH has grown into an international program. Today, they work with hundreds of employers to provide opportunities for countless interns. Our team is proud to be the first to host it in El Paso, Texas.
Our Project SEARCH interns learn functional job skills within different departments through three-month rotations. The goal is for the interns to be hired after completing their internship. Project SEARCH internships are designed to give students a wide variety of work experiences. At our hospital for example, Project SEARCH interns work not only in food services but also in departments like environmental services (EVS), payroll, laundry and central supply. In addition to learning a variety of jobs, they learn independent-living and other life skills that apply to any role. Things like arriving to work on time and managing difficult or emotional situations are all part of their training.
Several of the interns including both Alfredo and Raul studied in their high school’s culinary program. When Project SEARCH approached Morrison to include them, we seized the opportunity to bring them into our 75-person team. One of the things I love about Morrison is how our teams jump at opportunities to include people of all backgrounds and abilities.
The interns receive guidance and support as soon as they join the team. In our case, Alfredo and Raul were both paired with another member of the dishwashing team who could teach them how to safely move meal carts, remove trays, separate items, load dishing into the washer, and clean the meal carts. At the end of a day’s work, our Project SEARCH interns participate in class time so they can debrief with their teachers and share their work experiences.
During the first week, Project SEARCH mentors accompanied Alfredo and Raul were for their entire shifts. Once a task was mastered and each understood their jobs, they earned more autonomy and their responsibilities grew. Soon, Alfredo and Raul were also setting up the tray line, learning how to serve meals, picking up caterings and dishes from the doctors’ lounges and retrieving patient meal carts from the units.
Sometimes, we needed to adjust the workflow. On other occasions, Alfredo and Raul understood their jobs, but progressed slower. No matter the situation, our team members did a great job learning how to adapt their communication styles to what Alfredo and Raul needed. They adjusted tasks without taking away learning opportunities.
Over time, I became very impressed with Alfredo’s abilities and dedication to do his job well. I had a dishwashing position open and decided to consult the Project SEARCH team to see if I could ask Alfredo to apply for the role. While the job was a great opportunity, taking it would have meant leaving the Project SEARCH internship early. Alfredo decided to stay with Project SEARCH. Alfredo, a curious and dedicated learner was determined to complete the internship because it provided an opportunity to try another role, Patient Transport. In the end, I wasn’t surprised at his decision not to take the job because of his commitment to learning and gaining varied work experience.
Alfredo successfully completed the Project SEARCH internship (and his rotation in patient transport) and shortly after came and asked me if I still had an opening in our kitchen. He liked our team, his kitchen experience and wanted to be considered for a job.
I still had a position available and happily let him know he could to apply for it. Project SEARCH helps people with disabilities become self-sufficient, so just like any other candidate; he went through the interview process. He learned how to write a resume, list references, answer questions, and more.
On interview day, Alfredo arrived in a very professional manner – gray slacks, button-down shirt, sweater, and a tie – for an interview as a dishwasher. All of his training and education was very apparent during the interview (an incredibly rewarding moment for me). There were two other candidates for the position, but Alfredo got the job and has been working for us since the end of May.
The EVS team offered our other intern, Raul a job, which he accepted. It is great to still see him working at the hospital.
There are valuable lessons to be learned from this experience. At first, when I explained the internship program to our team at THOP Memorial, I asked them to be considerate and open-minded about their new teammates. Instead of slowing down the flow of work, it turned out that adding Alfredo and Raul made everyone more willing to help each other. Instead of working in their separate sections, there was more teamwork.
The other lessons are the obvious benefits of diversity and inclusion. Five months into the job, Alfredo fits right in with everyone else. When the team takes their breaks in the café, he’s there too, sitting and talking with the rest of them – just how it should be. As time has passed, we have discovered that while he is quiet, he has a funny sense of humor. One evening as he was serving dinner, the supervisor called out a ticket but stated it needed to be a small portion. Alfredo served the plate, with just a tiny, bite-sized amount and passed it to her with a mischievous grin on his face. Everyone had a good laugh!
It’s satisfying to know how much support there is at higher levels in our company for teams who bring diversity and inclusion to the forefront of their operations. Our account was selected to attend Compass Night of Stars, Compass Group’s most notable annual awards banquet for the best of the best associates and teams across our entire organization. At Compass Night of Stars, THOP Memorial was recognized for our commitment to Project SEARCH.
One more thing: our participation in Project SEARCH was not a one-time experience. The new school year brought us new interns. Our newest intern has a physical disability, so we are learning to modify our tasks to make sure he can participate and learn them. He primarily has use of only one hand, so we have learned how to help him make adaptations as he works. He uses his stronger hand for all tasks but has learned to use his other hand to help provide stabilization to items he may be carrying or loading into the machine.
In the end, everyone understands that we are stronger working together as a team and that inclusion means giving everyone an opportunity to work and contribute to our success.
The names of THOP Memorial’s interns have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
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