UPMC Hamot Gives Underprivileged Youth An Opportunity

UPMC Hamot, in Erie, Pennsylvania, has done more than provide health care to the people within the four walls of its hospital; it has created and implemented an initiative to help the underprivileged youth in the city. In doing so, the hospital has grown a more diverse workforce.

The UPMC Hamot leadership team, headed by James Donnelly, chief nursing officer and chief quality officer, partnered with an active faith community leader and hospital board member, Bishop Dwane Brock, to create an innovative program for underprivileged youth.

In 2014, the poverty rate for city residents 18 to 64 was 16.2 percent, which was three percent higher than the state and the nation.

In the same year, Erie City High School had the lowest graduation rate in all Erie County districts —73.2 percent, which was 12 percent lower than county and state averages.

Additionally, in the city of Erie, violent crimes with weapon-related offenses doubled from 109 to 207 and the number of murders and manslaughter charges tripled from four to 12, from 2013 to 2014.

In response to the startling statistics, Brock and Donnelly partnered to create the Eagles’ Nest, an 8-week employability initiative to give underprivileged young people an opportunity to learn job skills and train for employment within UPMC Hamot.

“At the end of the day it becomes a win-win, because they get an opportunity and we get the help and fill our positions,” Donnelly said. “What emerged was something beyond our imagination.”

UPMC Hamot secured grant funding to pay students for their training in the Eagles’ Nest.

Some students come into the program with little work experience, and others come in looking for a second chance.

“We have some people who come in with challenges and who have made some mistakes in their lives,” Donnelly said. “We are vetting these people out for eight weeks. At the end of the eight weeks, I’m comfortable going, ‘Yes, bring them on. I’m endorsing them.’”

During the first four weeks, the students train with Brock. They learn employability skills based on Philip Devol’s book “Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World.”

“From the first day, we want to know what they are expecting and what they are worried and concerned about, so that we continuously learn from the experience,” Donnelly said. “It’s very interesting to see what happens when you do that with a room full of young people like that. They open up, and leaders distinguish themselves in the room.”

Students prepare for work in the hospital by participating in group and partner activities like brushing each other’s teeth and washing each other’s feet.

During this time, Donnelly, Brock, and the UPMC Hamot staff get to know the students and get a feel for who they are and what jobs will fit them best. The students learn basic interview skills before transitioning into internship positions within the hospital.

For the next two weeks, students shadow someone in their selected field of work. They intern as housekeepers, patient transporters, phlebotomists, nurses, and more.

They spend time in the simulation lab, obtain classroom training, and follow the same schedule as their mentors, while balancing a 40-hour workweek.

At the end of the internship, they may apply for entry-level positions within UPMC Hamot.

Eagles’ Nest graduate Chania Akers, who is now a patient care technician, was able to train for her position through the program and obtain a job at UPMC Hamot where she still works today. She is enrolled in college while working at UPMC Hamot.

“[Eagles’ Nest teaches young adults] to never look down on somebody, always have positivity and keep yourself very uplifted,” Akers said. “Eagles’ Nest prepares young adults to come into Hamot and shine bright and have a very positive attitude.”

During her training, Akers met with head nurses, learned how to check vital signs and temperatures, and gave baths to patients, while reporting to the nurses.

At the end of her internship, Akers was uniquely trained to work at UPMC Hamot. She was hired as a nursing assistant, and since then she has been promoted to her current position as a patient care technician.

“Hamot has really benefited me, and it’s helped me through the process of having a job and taking care of myself financially,” Akers said. “I’m just thankful that I’m here.”

Eagles’ Nest graduate, Carneesha Morris, and now patient safety and quality coordinator, has had a different experience through the Eagles’ Nest.

Donnelly was so impressed with Morris’ natural leadership skills that he pulled her out during orientation and had her work under the patient safety officer.

Morris was taught how to handle events when a patient is injured and how to follow up with patients and nurses. She also attended meetings and court hearings with the risk manager.

Having completed college before entering the Eagles’ Nest program, Morris is considering her graduate school options.

“It was really hard to find a job,” she said. “Finding this program has definitely helped me.  I’ve gotten a new car, my own apartment, the benefits are great, and I’m meeting new people.”

The program is promoted through word of mouth, and graduates recommend it to other young people in the community.

“I want to see a lot of these kids succeed and be leaders in the community,” Morris said.

Once hired in the hospital, graduates are given full-time jobs with full-time benefits. They are also eligible for $5,000 in tuition reimbursement, as well as scholarships for college.

UPMC Hamot has also benefited from the Eagles’ Nest program. The hospital is now a more diverse and inclusive organization. The people of color working in the hospital jumped 60 percent within the first year of implementing the program.

The hospital also has the lowest nursing assistant vacancy rates, the lowest nursing assistant turnover rates, and the lowest new hire nurse aid turnover rates in the entire UPMC enterprise.

“I think we’ve gotten as much as we’ve given,” Donnelly said. “You have to give to get. This was not easy. Bishop and I have learned as much as any student who has been through the program.”