Overlook Medical Center, one of four entities in New Jersey offering internships through Project SEARCH, a program to provide students with disabilities work experience, is the first in the state to offer employment to one of its interns.
Eddie Torres, a 20-year-old student from Union County, had been interning with Atlantic Health System’s hospital in Summit since last fall.
The health system identified a part-time position that happened to be vacant, and changed the position to one that would suit Torres.
Josh Bornstein, director of special projects at the Union County Educational Services Commission, said the health system decided to offer Torres the job after seeing how well he assimilated into the daily schedule.
“From what I can tell, what really sealed it for (Overlook) is when Eddie went home for the winter break, for the school year, and was away for a while, I think it really dawned on them how much value he was adding, and how much his work was enabling other employees to focus on patient care,” Bornstein said.
Or, as Maria DeLauro, manager of cardiac services at Overlook Medical Center, said, “In a short time, we had become to be dependent on him for those things.”
Specifically, Torres was charged with organizing the supply wings and restocking supplies on a floor.
“Eddie is doing things we had to do, but now we’ve just organized who is doing what,” DeLauro said.
Several days a week, the patient nutrition department delivers food, all of which needs to be organized in the pantry. New staff often had problems finding things in the supply wings, which eventually Torres organized.
“There were so many stories accumulated over time” of tasks that needed completion, DeLauro said.
Another task Torres handled that came up earlier, when he wasn’t able to understand how his contribution was beneficial to the system, was paperwork.
Filling out paperwork for the supplies and delivering patient admission and discharge packets were other tasks he was assigned, and the coach assigned to Torres had to explain to him that every patient needs paperwork, so, by helping with the packets, Torres was helping the team collectively to continue helping patients, DeLauro said.
The staff was impressed by how quickly he caught on to his routine.
“We had to explain and show him what was needed. As with any new person orienting, everyone is different,” she said. “Working with Eddie and making sure he had a solid handle on what we needed him to do was really a matter of routine, especially because of the size of the floor. In many cases, we would ask him to show us after we told him (what to do).”
In addition, it was clear Torres needed to learn certain social cues and adapt to the new professional environment. DeLauro said it took him time to understand that, if he walked into the office while she was on the phone or when someone else was there, he would have to wait to meet with her.
“We realized he’s pretty capable and asks good questions,” DeLauro said.
Which is why she searched for a way to bring him on board.
As luck would have it, a part-time patient care technician had just left the position, so there were 22.5 hours per week available to fill.
DeLauro asked her boss if they could take those hours and reclassify that into a new position. Since it wasn’t adding any additional hours, and the job was vacant, she pitched the idea of changing the position title to equipment technician.
The approvals came through and the team helped Torres find the job online, apply for it and prep for the interview.
“I’ve been around hospitals long enough to know that adding dollars is possible, but not easy. If you can do something and keep it neutral, it’s an easier sell,” DeLauro said.
When Torres learned about the job offer, he immediately called his parents.
Torres’s father, Adolfo Torres, a native Spanish speaker who replied to requests for comment through a translator and via email, said: “I was concerned and worried that he wouldn't be accepted into the program. It helps us so much in knowing that he is able to work somewhere, especially in a hospital, and it brings us great joy.”
He added, “My hope for Eddie is that, with every passing day, he becomes better and better at his new job.”
Bornstein said the program in Union, which currently includes partners in Overlook Medical Center, Union County Educational Services Commission, the New Jersey Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Project HIRE and the Arc of New Jersey, the Union County Workforce Development Board and the New Jersey Travel Independence Program at Rutgers, anticipates expanding in the next few years, and has already been approached by businesses who want to participate and hire students from the program.