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Project REACH: ISO Qualified Candidates
Employees are earning degrees and learning new skills, thanks to the $3 million Department of Labor grant

Twelve employees from the Department of Pathology are pursuing college degrees as part of Project REACH. Among them are, from left, Cindy Hendry, Edgar Calderon, Brian Calderon and Christina Feldman.
Edgar Calderon and his brother Brian are putting in long days—and nights. They rise early each weekday morning in order to make it to classes at Essex Community College, where they study computer science, math, English, and either biology or chemistry. Their school day ends at 2:20 p.m., leaving just 40 minutes to get to Hopkins Hospital, where they work until 11:30 at night as laboratory technician IIs in the Department of Pathology’s core lab.

The Calderon brothers are pursuing two-year college degrees that will enable them to attain the rank of medical laboratory technicians. Cindy Hendry and Christina Feldman are already medical lab technicians. They are now working toward their bachelor’s degrees so they can advance to medical technologists.

These four are among the first of several hundred employees throughout the Health System who will benefit from an innovative, $3 million, federally funded career development program. The program enables employees to gain the education they need to advance their careers. At the same time, it provides a supply of trained personnel to take over important yet hard-to-fill, chronically vacant health care positions, says Yariela Kerr-Donovan. Kerr-Donovan came to Hopkins last summer to manage the grant, awarded by the Department of Labor’s National Health Care Initiative, an effort to address critical worker shortages facing the health care industry.

Edgar notes that once the program helps him become a medical lab technician, he will start to earn more income. His hourly wage will rise from $13.51 to $15.50, including his nighttime bonus, he says. He hopes eventually to become a medical technologist.

“Working at Hopkins is really good because they’re always looking to give you a leg up,” says Edgar, a 20-year-old native of Mexico. “They always want you to become better than what you are now.”

The 18-month grant program, dubbed Project REACH (Resources and Education for the Advancement of Careers at Hopkins), was launched June 1. So far, enrollment has been impressive, Kerr-Donovan says, even without the planned Web site promotion or payroll mailer to employees currently in the works. Approximately 360 applications have been received, based on notices posted on department bulletin boards and on information sessions, such as the one the Calderon brothers attended last summer. Kerr-Donovan hopes that between 600 and 700 workers will apply to have their skills tested. In all, she expects to enroll about 400 employees.

Eligibility for the program extends to current employees who have at least one year of full-time service with Health System entities, including Hopkins Hospital, Bayview Medical Center, Howard County General Hospital, the Home Care Group, Community Physicians and Broadway Services. Applicants must have a satisfactory work record and obtain a recommendation from their department management. Those who need to work on basic skills will be referred to an accelerated GED and skills enhancement program, overseen by Deborah Knight-Kerr, director of community and educational projects.

As current employees move up into better-paying jobs, “we then have the opportunity to reach into the community and have folks come in and fill those positions that have been vacated. It’s a wonderful way to have a succession plan,” says Kerr-Donovan. She hopes to develop a model that can be replicated across the country, as other hospitals seek to fill current shortages in critical health care positions.

“Anyone who has ever dreamt of doing something other than what they’re doing now within Hopkins should consider submitting an application,” says Kerr-Donovan. “More than anything, the leadership here is saying that we value our employees. We’re willing to invest in them to help them reach their goals.”

—Neil A. Grauer

Info: Yariela Kerr-Donovan, 410-502-2200. Employees are encouraged to drop by Project REACH’s assessment center on the 4th floor of the 550 Building.



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