December 2, 2005

Children’s Hospital job skills program creates opportunities

Featured Image

Project Opportunity student Jessica Crowell, foreground, practices stocking Champ dolls on the inpatient floors at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt as students Micheal Williams, left, and Nancy Hays count them for her.
photo by Dana Johnson

Children’s Hospital job skills program creates opportunities

Creating health care jobs for an often overlooked segment of the population is the goal of an innovative program at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.

A group of five high school seniors with developmental disabilities from Williamson County are taking part in a pilot program called Project Opportunity. From October until May, the students spend half-days five days a week at Children's Hospital training for a chance at a future job in health care.

The students are learning how to do a variety of tasks such as cleaning beds and stocking items, including nurses' supplies and even Champ dolls for distribution to newly admitted patients.

All the while, they are also learning the basics of infection control, how to conduct themselves on patient floors and other skills needed to work in a hospital.

“These are children we've been taking care of in the system for years,” said Terrell Smith, director of Patient and Family-Centered Care for Vanderbilt University Hospital and Clinics. “These are our children, and there's great encouragement for these students to grow into adulthood and come back here to do meaningful work.”

In fact, one of the program's participants, Micheal Williams, has been treated at Children's Hospital as recently as earlier this year.

“I've stayed at the hospital a long time,” she said.

The students, who receive school credit for their on-the-job-training, are supervised by Sara Ezell, program coordinator, and are taught by two instructors in a classroom in the basement of Children's Hospital. After they complete the Project Opportunity program, they'll be eligible for employment at the Children's Hospital.

“I would like to work at Vanderbilt because I like to help the patients,” said student Nancy Hays.

The Tennessee Department of Health and Human Service's Division of Vocational Rehabilitation provided a two-year grant to fund the program. Vanderbilt subcontracted with Community Options Inc., who provides additional personnel with expertise in job coaching for adults with disabilities.

Williamson County was chosen for the pilot project because the county already had a grant in place which would provide transportation to and from the hospital for the students each day.

“I think this program will work because Vanderbilt has prioritized diversity and, specifically, hiring people with disabilities as a part of the new Medical Center Credo and as part of the elevate program,” Ezell said.

“With a commitment from Vanderbilt administration that funnels down to supervisors and hiring officials, plus the support of the Tennessee Vocational Rehabilitation and Community Options, we have a dynamic team. Also, Williamson County schools is committed to giving the best experiences to their students, so our educational and curriculum support is solid as well.”

The program, although in its infancy, is modeled after a program at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, which has been successful in its seven years of operation. Cincinnati currently employs 65 graduates of its Project Search.

There, program graduates who were placed in the hospital have below average turnover rates, and low absenteeism rates.

If Vanderbilt's program is successful, it will be expanded to include the entire Medical Center and will be opened up to other adults with developmental delays.

Ezell has no doubts that the program will take off because the students are so dedicated and willing to learn.

“Just today, when the students arrived, we gave them a choice to play a game as a beginning activity or to just jump into their rotations,” Ezell said. “Every student said they wanted to work. That work ethic is something they bring every day, and honestly it helps keep us going too.”