Graduate of Award-Winning Program Excels in Her New Role

The experiences shared by employees at a Mississippi hospital demonstrate the value of investing in frontline workers by giving them a path to a brighter future.

    • May 17, 2010

In April, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Hitachi Foundation received the 2010 Critical Impact Award from the Council on Foundations for the innovative work of Jobs to Careers: Promoting Work-Based Learning for Quality Care (J2C). The high-profile honor underscores the power of a very down-to-earth approach to giving frontline health and health care workers opportunities to achieve their dreams, while enhancing the ability of participating organizations to care for patients.

J2C addresses the health care sector’s need for well-trained workers with the skills essential to providing quality care, and its mission is becoming even more important as health care reform begins to reshape our medical system. “The need for a skilled health care workforce, particularly on the frontlines of care, will only increase as health care reform takes hold,” said Maria Flynn, director of Jobs to Careers and vice president of Jobs for the Future (JFF), the organization that administers J2C for the two foundations. “With tens of millions of newly insured Americans in the coming years, the nation must invest in raising the skill and education level of every member of a health care team, including frontline workers who provide a great deal of the nation’s direct patient care and public health services.”

The nation’s six million frontline workers make up the majority of our health and health care workforce and they have more contact with patients than other hospital and clinic staff. “Yet they earn low wages and have limited opportunities for advancement,” said Flynn. That’s where J2C makes a critical difference. In the past four years, more than 700 workers have begun to work toward new health careers through the program, improving the quality of patient care across the country, one worker at a time.

J2C at Work
Central Mississippi Medical Center (CMMC) is a 429-bed facility in the heart of Jackson, MS, that is one of J2C’s 17 program sites. The Center’s hospital and clinics “serve the south part of the city and smaller towns,” said Debbie Logan, R.N., project director for the Mississippi Office of Nursing Workforce and area coordinator for J2C. “It’s not unusual for hospitals in surrounding areas to send patients in need of care to CMMC. It’s an important part of the community and therefore an ideal site for the J2C program,” she said.

With 25 years of experience in nursing, Logan said, “all my life I’ve worked in health care and I’ve often trained professionals. The J2C group is different. They are so grateful for the opportunity to advance and J2C makes it possible by providing work-based learning that recognizes the life issues that keep people out of school. It works so well, we are using the model in some of our nursing schools,” she said.

“With J2C, hospitals get a better worker and the employee enhances their sense of personal value,” said Logan, recalling the grandmother who brought her grandchildren to one J2C class because, “she wanted to show them the importance of education. She told them, ‘if I can go back to school, you can do well. That’s how important education is,’” Logan said.

CMMC employee and recent J2C graduate Kelly Blackwell fully understood the importance of education, but the demands of family came first. “I knew I wanted to work in the medical field and I went to college right after high school,” explains Blackwell, “but once I had a child I just couldn’t go back.” Blackwell began work at CMMC as a transporter, picking patients up and dropping them off. “Doing that work, I really didn’t have a chance to interact with the patients at all and there was no opportunity to move up,” she said.

Thankful for the opportunity to make a change, Blackwell signed up for J2C’s daytime, work-based classes, allowing her to go home to her family at night. She’s now doing so well as a Unit Secretary in CMMC’s geriatric care unit that, “we hope to use Kelly as an instructor and preceptor in our next J2C class,” said Jacque Andrews, R.N., director of education at CMMC.

“When Kelly answers a call button, she’s going to make sure that the patient gets care. She is not someone who will sit and wait for someone else to do the job,” said Ramie Polk, R.N., nurse manager and program director in CMMC’s geriatric care unit and Blackwell’s delighted new boss. “Because of her other role at the hospital, she’s trained to help out in many ways. She now has relationships with physicians and other medical staff. She’s such a stable part of the unit that when I’m out, I don’t worry if I know Kelly is on duty,” Polk adds. “She’s used everything available to her to become better at her job.”

At least part of Blackwell’s success comes from her obvious enjoyment of her work. “I read doctors’ and nurses’ orders and do administrative work, but I also feed patients and help with other care. I’m in more direct contact with them now, I get to spend time with them and I really like it,” Blackwell said.

A Win-Win Relationship

As much as Blackwell has benefited from her new role, she and her fellow J2C graduates have become a valuable resource to CMMC. “J2C allows us to take good hospital employees and utilize them in new roles,” Andrews said. “They already have a broad knowledge of the hospital, so their orientation time is greatly decreased. The program allows people to get college credit, so that enhances the group that chooses to train and it helps us with the hardest part of staffing—finding the right people for the right job.” Of the eight CMMC graduates in Blackwell’s class, four are already in new roles and one graduate decided to go to nursing school. “Working with J2C has been a great experience,” Andrews said. “I’ve only heard positive feedback from all of the managers who work with program graduates.”

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