Emory Crawford Long Hospital (ECLH) is one of five organizations this year, and the only one in the Southeast, to win a national award from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for its program to train and hire high school graduates and adults with developmental disabilities and integrate them into a busy hospital workplace.
Called Project Search, the program provides on-the-job training that leads to employment for individuals with developmental disabilities. Collaborators of the program include: ECLH; Briggs & Associates, an Atlanta-based company that develops "non-traditional" employment opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities; the Fulton County School System; the Georgia Department of Human Resources; and the Georgia Department of Labor Rehabilitation Services.
On Wednesday, Sept. 26, ECLH Chief Operating Officer Al Blackwelder, along with members of Briggs & Associates and others associated with Project Search, received the EEOC's 2007 Freedom to Compete Award in Washington, DC.
"It is quite an honor to receive this national recognition for our Project Search program," says Blackwelder. "This program and its employees have truly enhanced so many departments in the hospital, not only from a productivity standpoint, but also from a morale standpoint."
The award emphasizes the importance of providing free and unfettered access to employment opportunities for all individuals. Its central theme is that employees and applicants deserve the opportunity to compete on a level playing field, and advance in the workplace as far as their talents and abilities will take them, without regard to discriminatory barriers, including disability.
"In today's competitive global economy, employers must cast a wide net to attract the most diverse range of talent available," says Naomi C. Earp, chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "The Freedom to Compete Award showcases the most innovative employer programs to promote fair and open competition in the 21st century workplace without regard to race, color, gender, religion, national origin, age or disability. We applaud the 2007 winners, whose practices serve as models for employers across the nation."
With a continuous shortage of registered nurses and medical technicians in hospitals today, routine and often time-consuming tasks are pushed aside to focus on patient care. Many of these tasks do not require the level of expertise that nurses and technicians possess.
In November 2004, a representative from Briggs & Associates first introduced the idea of the Project Search program to ECLH and Blackwelder. In his leadership role at ECLH, Blackwelder was very interested and quickly found classroom space for seven high school seniors and their school system teachers to train each year. The training also includes rotating through various hospital departments for one year until the students and the departments find a perfect match. Jobs include stocking carts with medical supplies in the emergency room and operating rooms, escorting patients and patient families to their destinations, cleaning IV poles and pumps, scanning patient account records, delivering materials to a stock room andmore.
"These young people train and diligently learn how to do these very important tasks crucial to the hospital setting, and in return, they receive the benefits of employment and support in a real work environment. It is a win-win situation for everyone involved," says Blackwelder.
Since the program began, 33 individuals from ECLH's Project Search program have been hired by ECLH, Emory University Hospital or Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston, an almost 100 percent employment rate.
"The lives of these students have been dramatically changed because they have been able to transition directly from high school to paid jobs, unlike 67 percent of their peers with developmental disabilities," says Diane Prindle, regional director, Briggs & Associates. "The bar has been raised regarding expectations of the types of jobs people with developmental disabilities can hold."
This program is recognized as the best in the state of Georgia for transitioning high school students with developmental disabilities to "non-traditional" jobs, according to Briggs & Associates. They receive competitive pay for their work, as well as benefits.
"The Project Searchers are true go-getters," says Cheryl Lingerfelt, career specialist, Briggs & Associates, who works with the students turned employees on a daily basis. "They are compassionate about their jobs and committed to their work. This program not only boosts their self-esteem, but it is also having a positive impact on employee morale throughout the hospital."
Since the start of Project Search in Georgia in 2004, a number of other metro Atlanta area hospitals have also started their own programs. Emory University Hospital is one of those.
Blackwelder will talk more about the Project Search program on Thursday, Sept. 27, as he gives the keynote address during the Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities 2007 Discovery Day. The event will be held at the Home Depot Corporate Headquarters beginning at 9:00 am. For more information, call 404-657-2122.