Program makes job search easier for all involved

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Since late August, Madison County Hospital has been working in conjunction with the Madison County Board of MR/DD on Project SEARCH—a student internship program providing career development and education opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Many people gathered recently at a Project SEARCH open house at the hospital: (from left) Project SEARCH job coach Jodi Scase, student intern Misty Grimmett, student intern Shaundra Sayre, student intern Jillian Barton, MR/DD Superintendent Jim Canney, student intern Savannah Wilson, Madison County Hospital CEO/President Fred Kolb, and Project SEARCH coordinator Peggy Van Hoose.

Search and employ.

At least that’s the ultimate goal.

A few short months ago, four young ladies served by the Madison County Board of Mental Retardation and Develop-mental Disabilities and Fairhaven School began a transitional internship program in conjunction with Madison County Hospital.

Project SEARCH, a pilot program originally started at Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital a decade ago, provides a unique opportunity for individuals with disabilities to obtain valuable job experience in a structured, learning environment.

“They have not physically accepted their diploma, even though they did the social graduation,” said MR/DD Children Services Director Peg Johnson of the four participants. “That way they are allowed to have another year of post-secondary training under Department of Education programming.”

The first step in the process was convincing Madison County Hospital CEO and President Fred Kolb, as well as the other leaders at the facility, about the mutual benefits Project SEARCH could offer.

That didn’t appear to take very long.

“As Mr. Kolb put it to us in our first meeting, ‘This is a win-win situation for everybody—we’ll get valuable employees; your folks will get jobs,’ ” Johnson said, adding that it also needed approval from the hospital’s Administrative Council and management team.

“They were willing to give us whatever we needed to get us in the door, and to have us be a part of their business.”

Since starting in late August, Jillian Barton, Misty Grimmett, Shaundra Sayre, and Savannah Wilson have not only been ambassadors for the MR/DD program, but a valuable asset to the workings of the hospital.

“My expectations were more that together we could make a difference for the community and for the program participants,” Kolb said. “When I see the program participants around the hospital, they are committed, they are intent on what they are doing, they are making a difference, they are performing the tasks well that have been assigned to them.”

According to Kolb, one of the strong components of the program’s success so far has been the environment of learning fostered by the Madison County Board of MR/DD. Fairhaven School is on site with project coordinator Peggy Van Hoose and job coach Jodi Scase.

“Hospitals, for years, have employed people with disabilities, (but) I think the way this is different is that this is a structured program that works using accepted, proven practices to train the individuals, so we can reach a level of success,” Kolb said of Project SEARCH’s uniqueness.

“I think what occurred prior to this, in here as well as many other hospitals, is that you would bring in people with disabilities to do jobs, but the training and follow-up was not as structured.”

While MR/DD provides the participants, tools and pre-training, it has been Madison County Hospital and its staff that has put the wheels in motion.

“They’ve done a good job at the hospital identifying the areas where the ladies can work,” said Madison County Board of MR/DD Superintendent Jim Canney. “You don’t just have the professionals in the field of people with disabilities, but you’ve got other professionals—for instance the hospital—that are attuned at looking at employment opportunities for people with disabilities.”

Among the areas the students have been interning within include materials management, the laboratory, laundry, and central supply (pre-surgery).

Each student will do at least three, 10-week rotations.

Upon arrival each morning, Van Hoose and Scase meet with the ladies to train them on areas such as employability skills. Through their “classroom” and practical experience, the students have learned about things ranging from patient privacy to hospital disaster codes, but most importantly, they have learned a lot about themselves.

“They all feel valued and trusted; they all feel their job is important,” Van Hoose said of how the students have grown. “This is real work, not simulated work, and you can see the confidence in their faces.”

The hospital employees have provided positive reinforcement to the students.

“One gentleman took a student and told me, ‘I took this student in the beginning because I thought it was the right thing to do,’ ” Johnson stated. “He said, ‘I didn’t know the right thing was that we were going to have the help we needed doing the jobs we needed done.’ ”

One of the areas in need of assistance was materials management.

According to Johnson, Sayre was placed there and has excelled. She has learned to pick orders that go to specific areas in the hospital.

“After she pulls the order from the shelving in the huge room—she’s working out of a room the size of a gymnasium—she picks the order and takes it to the floor or to the general area department where it goes,” Johnson said of Sayre.

Sayre admits that she had difficulty at first finding her way around the hospital, but she’s mastered that as she has many of the other components of her internship.

“I get to deliver things to the whole hospital,” Sayre said. “I like that I get to meet new people and make new friends.”

Wilson enjoys the “good sense of responsibility” she gets working in the lab. Putting together culture kits and going to the outlying buildings to pick up lab samples are just two of her responsibilities.

Barton in central supply and Grimmett in the laundry room have also realized how important their jobs are to making sure the hospital runs smoothly.

“The kids know if someone made up the job for them or if the jobs are real,” Johnson said. “I think the difference here is that they are real jobs.”

So far, it has epitomized a beneficial win-win situation, for not just MR/DD and the hospital, but the residents of Madison County as well.

“I am very appreciative that they are giving us this opportunity to do Project SEARCH and have welcomed us with open arms,” Canney said of Kolb and the rest of the Madison County Hospital staff. “It’s not just positive for the ladies that are getting the service, but it can be positive for the whole community.”

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