East Alabama Health (EAH) Creates a Culture of Connections, Builds Careers from the Frontline-Up

East Alabama Health (EAH) in Opelika, AL is a 340-bed hospital with regional clinics, that serves an 11-county area. With ~3,500 employees, EAH is the second largest employer in its metro-area, second only to Auburn University. The primary mission at EAH is to deliver high-quality, compassionate health care to every patient, every time.

EAH has long been an investor in its employees, including support for those at the entry-level.  In 2005, Vice President of Human Resources Susan Johnston became interested in workforce development as a strategy to be sure EAH had a steady supply of workers who were interested in healthcare.  “I heard a presentation in DC that a hospital made about its partnership with Catalyst Learning and knew right away that I would bring that back,” said Johnston.

Fast forward 16 years and EAH has seen hundreds of employees participate in its workforce programs, including those who have graduated from Catalyst Learning’s School at Work® (SAW) experience.  SAW is a comprehensive education and career planning system for a health system’s lowest paid employees that helps associates prepare to move from low-wage jobs to those family-sustaining wages.  

In a recent multi-year internal study, EAH saw that 53% of SAW graduates received a promotion and 55% utilized EAH’s scholarship programs to further their education.  The individual successes are many and impressive.  A few examples include:  a transporter now a business office manager; a housekeeper who went to EMT school and is now a paramedic; a young mom who was an MCT and is now a nurse; another who is now on the nursing advisory council.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion – Walking the Talk in Workforce Development

According to a 2020 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, workers of color are particularly overrepresented in front-line healthcare jobs.  The same is true at EAH, causing Johnston to be focused on how to advance diverse employees within the organization.  “It’s a huge part of my initiative to flood our organization with more diverse populations for our professional positions.  We must be champions of promoting from within and advocates for investing in people who live in our community.” Johnston believes the “grow from within” approach is a key element of solving the staffing nightmare that much of healthcare finds itself in today.

East Alabama Health, School at Work Graduates

We asked Susan if EAH’s investment in the entry-level employees was connected to a DE&I initiative.   And the immediate response was, “Absolutely. When I look at how our organization stacks up to our community, a lot of our diverse population is in our entry-level workforce.  We ask ourselves, why don’t we have more nurse managers who are black or brown? Well, we don’t have a lot of nurses coming out of nursing schools in our area who are black or brown. We have to get people in to be nurses so that they can become nurse managers. This is key to getting your workforce to become more diverse.”

Building A Culture of Connection – A Hands-On Approach

Johnston stays very close to programs like School at Work and Cornerstone, an employee-giving organization, by knowing and mentoring students and encouraging other EAH leaders to do the same.  She believes it is important for executives to understand first-hand the issues that EAH employees are facing, with those in lower-paid jobs sometimes living paycheck to paycheck or facing decisions about whether to feed families or put gas in their car.  “I want them to get to know these employees.  They’re fantastic, highly motivated, very capable people who we need to provide opportunities for.”

Lisa Ruffin, EAH’s Manager of Workforce Development describes the importance of other connections that the organization provides.  “HR is a great partner with the class.  They come in and help with interviewing, resume writing, and more.”  She also believes that the bond employee classmates form with each other is  a key to success.  “I like to pair the students who are very smart with those who may be struggling; the camaraderie  helps them excel.”  Ruffin is proud of the major impact she’s seen with a majority of participants moving up in the organization and many taking advantage of 2 free classes at Southern Union State Community College offered by EAH to help them get started. 

And the connections have just kept building!  New this year is a stipend scholarship for those who are highly capable and want to become nurses.  Says Johnston, “part of School at Work is the support and we’re trying to continue that.  They’re all at the community college together.  We’re staying with them.”

April Stapler, School at Work graduate 2013.  From General Cleaner/Housekeeping to RN

“My entire family is nurses. My mom, grandmother, aunt. Growing up, I didn’t want to be a nurse. I had kids young and started working as a housekeeper at EAH. Then nursing started to sound not so bad. I wanted to test the water to see if being around patients was something I was interested in before putting the time and money in. When being a housekeeper, you see how nurses, CNA’s, and tech’s come together as a cohesive group. I loved it. I loved getting to know residents, the people I worked with. I loved being involved in making a patient smile; being there when they weren’t having a good day. Nursing became my prime focus because the desire to care for someone, the desire to make a difference on their worst day became a passion for me. I graduated from nursing school in 2018.

“The entirety of the SAW program gave me the confidence to talk to doctors and other nurses. I feel like it gave me a voice, it put my name out there. From a housekeeper to a tech to a nurse.”

Jayme Cook, School at Work graduate 2020, Patient Resource Associate

“The confidence that I gained through SAW in myself and my abilities as a healthcare worker is what impacted me the most. My goal every day is to go home knowing that I helped somebody. Being able to build my own confidence as a person and healthcare worker and a leader – my biggest goal is to be a mentor. I want my coworkers to think if there is a problem, they can go to Jayme to figure it out. If she can’t figure it out, then she’ll help us find someone who can.”

Geisinger (PA) Builds Career Pipelines for Individual Contributors

Geisinger is a regional care provider in 45 Pennsylvania counties, spanning central and northeastern PA. More than 1 million patients are cared for at the health system’s 9 hospitals and numerous clinics and outpatient facilities.

Geisinger has a history of leading through trauma and trying times. Its very first hospital opened ahead of schedule in 1915 to deal with another public health crisis — a typhoid epidemic. Three years later, Pennsylvania was hit harder than any other U.S. state by the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, and Geisinger’s mission to care for its community became even more firmly entrenched. Leadership was vital for health outcome success in 2020 just as it was in the early 1900s.

Leading by Example

At every level of the organization, Geisinger cares for its employees. It is among 50 employers that received the 2020 Best Employers: Excellence in Health & Well-Being award, presented at the National Business Group on Health’s Workforce Strategy Conference. It also sponsors Employee Resource Groups as part of Geisinger’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, to help employees to build internal and external networks and further develop professionally.

Geisinger values employee leadership development and training, and not just for executive- or management-level associates. The organization also focuses on individual contributors to advance employee skills and build leadership pipelines, so employees achieve more personal success. In 2016, Geisinger realized its focus on employee health programs and mentoring lacked an essential component: leadership development for non-management positions. The HR Education Department quickly filled the gap through the School at Work® (SAW) experience provided by Catalyst Learning.

Education for Individual Contributors

SAW is a comprehensive 6-month program for entry-level non-clinical healthcare employees that strengthens communication skills, provides a sense of ownership for the HCAHPS rating and introduces medical terminology. Participants in SAW develop a personalized career plan, are encouraged to consider technical school or job advancement and gain confidence to realize a healthcare career. Geisinger uses SAW to support its mission to care, because engaged employees take ownership in making the patient experience as good as it can be.

“The goal of the SAW program is to motivate our employees to pursue career growth by finding the healthcare areas they are interested in and then determining what they need to do to achieve it. There are so many opportunities for career growth within Geisinger, and this program gives employees that boost of confidence to move forward and pursue it,” says 2019 SAW coach and HR generalist Lisa Runco.

The 2020 SAW class at Geisinger was led by Stephanie Servose, a Geisinger Training and Development specialist. She says that besides motivation,

“a big goal of ours is to create a pipeline for our individual contributors. There’s always been a heavy focus on leadership training and we’re now starting to see the same desire and attention to create more career success pathways for individual contributors.”

Ms. Servose also noted that to fill internal leadership positions, Geisinger has to develop its own individual contributors from within — because the next leader “is oftentimes already in the building.” She finds SAW to be a great first step in identifying talent and motivating future leaders to see a career for themselves in the health system.

Skill Improvement for Day-to-Day Work

Learning medical terminology was cited as a major benefit by those associated with SAW. Ms. Servose noted that confidence levels increased in parallel with communication skills for those who took the Communication and Medical Terminology course. “Going through the Medical Terminology course gives employees reassurance in their day-to-day jobs, especially those interacting with patients and doctors. Clinic team members use clinical terminology, which can be confusing to support staff, so the terminology workbooks and instruction help students to better understand.”

And beyond leadership noticing differences, SAW graduates are as well. Susan Fallon is an orthopaedics technician at Geisinger who graduated in the 2020 class. She says the Medical Terminology course has helped her converse with coworkers and communicate better with patients and their families.

The 2020 SAW graduating class had some inspiring results. Two students are pursuing further education in medical coding. Another graduate, Jessica Wiley from Environmental Services, decided to enroll in college and become a nurse. She says she’s thankful for the opportunity to advance her career and excited to learn and grow. After a recent interview for a community article about the SAW program, Ms. Wiley posted the article link on social media. Many of her friends from outside Geisinger have commented that they wished their employer offered a program like SAW.

Learning Through a Pandemic

Providing the SAW experience at Geisinger in 2020 had its own unique challenges. Class began before the pandemic hit, but then had to take a break to adhere to social distancing guidelines. After a few months, students were eager to keep the program moving and finish. With the support of coaches like Ms. Servose, much of the curriculum was moved to a virtual format.

“Even though the program was virtual this year, the students were able to create an inclusive environment to learning and development with each other.” Greg Titus, Training & Development Specialist

Although in-person interaction and learning is hard to duplicate, virtual learning did have some unforeseen advantages. It allowed Geisinger to scale up the program and increase employee participation — particularly for employees with childcare needs or who worked second shift. Switching to a virtual format also led to more questions and helpful 1:1 interactions between students and coaches. The private chat function encouraged questions from students who might be uncomfortable speaking up in a classroom setting.

Frank Harrison graduated from the original Geisinger SAW class 5 years ago and is now a Foodservice supervisor. He’d originally wanted to pursue a hotel management degree, but life had other plans. So when SAW was first offered, he jumped on the opportunity to pursue leadership development and skill growth.

“The SAW program helped me with my communication skills, which was not my forte before,” says Mr. Harrison. “Now I’m a supervisor and am much more comfortable having difficult but necessary conversations with my team. I also handle patient conversations better. I focus on de-escalating situations and ask how I can help, instead of barking back. SAW is one of the smartest things I have done. Without it, I wouldn’t be in an office role leading a team — I would still be working the floors.”

“We are committed to helping our people shape their futures and we provide opportunities for career growth and advancement at Geisinger,” says Amy Brayford, Chief Human Resources Officer.

“Our people are the heart of everything we do and we want to set them up for success.” Geisinger plans to continue offering yearly SAW classes to entry-level workers, focusing on identifying high-performing associates and offering leadership development, as well as filling clinical, clerical and support positions from within. Those newly vacated entry-level positions will be filled with talent from the local community, supporting the economic vitality of the region. Preparing workers for further education and job advancement is part of the goal at Geisinger, a system that emphasizes employee success and career pipelines.

Cincinnati Children’s Commitment to Diversity & Inclusion through Frontline Employee Career Development

“I believe there’s a whole world of untapped potential buried within me, hoping that I’ll be brave enough to unearth it. I also believe there’s a whole world of untapped potential within you. And it’s hoping, waiting to see if you’re willing to set it free.”

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Medical Center (CCHMC) is recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of the best children’s hospitals in the U.S. It is nationally ranked in 10 pediatric specialties. It is a teaching hospital, medical and surgical, and operates Level 1 pediatric trauma and surgery, within downtown Cincinnati and throughout the southern Ohio region.

While patients are referred from all over the world for CCHMC’s care capabilities, it has a mission to be a vital resource to the health of the local community, focusing on efforts to impact obesity, asthma, preventable injuries and infant mortality. The hospital strategically uses resources and partnerships with local organizations to address health issues that are prevalent in the community.

Commitment to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. Walking the Talk… at All Levels

Cincinnati Children’s values and regards diversity as an organizational asset, utilizing the strengths and benefits diversity and inclusion bring to patients, families, visitors, employees, volunteers, suppliers and the community. The organization was ranked #40 in Forbes list “America’s Best Employers for Diversity 2020.” This isn’t an accident. The recognition represents intentional progress and alignment with strategic goals, set from the apex of the health system.

Putting this belief and strategy into workforce development practice, CCHMC offers a suite of programs that serve as a catalyst for building pathways for the next generation of diverse healthcare professionals.

  • The “Job Coach program connects employees with appropriate mentors who can help with professional development and help make connections in the Patient Service Division.
  • CCHMC’s William K Schubert Minority Nursing Scholarship seeks to increase the diversity of registered nurses at CCHMC and to assist with economic barriers that prevent some students from pursuing nursing careers.
  • CCHMC offers minority scholarships for medical imaging, to promote the entrance of minorities into the high need field of radiology.
  • Raising minimum wage to $15/hour across the board
  • Career Pathways program which increases the transparency for employees of what education and experience is needed to advance to another role
  • CCHMC augmenting our tuition reimbursement program to also offer a tuition assistance program which makes tuition payments directly to approved educational programs/colleges/universities reducing the burden of employees have to pay for tuition and then wait for reimbursement after completion course

Frontline employees are a significant and diverse part of the total healthcare workforce, yet are often underserved by leadership development and career development programs. CCHMC continues to ensure that the programs they offer are inclusive, intentional, and tailor-made to support this essential group.

CCHMC’s first-ever vice president of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations, Bobby Rodriguez, will help continue to change the outcome on these important fronts.

“It’s our responsibility to champion and advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion—within the walls of the medical center and well beyond. My goals are to build a vibrant, culturally sensitive and inclusive environment,” Mr. Rodriguez shares. “Listening and celebrating the differences and similarities of each other will make us a stronger organization.”

Maintaining a Focus on Workforce Development, Despite a Pandemic

One of CCHMC’s goals has been to build career pathways and upward mobility for ethnically diverse entry and mid-level professionals.

For entry level healthcare associates, CCHMC began working with Catalyst Learning in 2010 to implement School At Work® (SAW®), a curriculum and career planning system that promotes upward mobility. SAW® sharpens key behavioral skills to optimize employee performance and puts student associates on a path for career advancement in healthcare. Subjects include Life Management Skills, Communication in the Workplace, Medical Terminology, and Planning For Your Future.

Karen Powers is a Facilitation Consultant at CCHMC, and serves as a SAW® coach. Karen recently commented that “At CCHMC, we want to leverage and lift each other up for success. We need to be able to give our entry-level employees the tools they need to thrive at our organization and see their importance. We want to retain our associates, and show that we value making investments in them.”

Karen tells us that supervisors have reached out to her on multiple occasions to note the changes they’re seeing in their employees. Supervisors have told Karen,

“My SAW® employee is showing up so differently, with increased confidence, interest in responsibility, and is focused on growth and development. They’ve gone from listening to actively participating. SAW is giving a sense of accomplishment that is helping associates reach the next step.”

Danette Fields is a Patient Rep II at CCHMC who graduated from SAW® in 2014. She recently said that SAW® helped her to learn how to interact with co-workers better and to diffuse conflict and difficult situations better. She said it taught her how to keep patients and families in mind as she communicates, and to be accurate and accountable in her work and patient interaction.

Expanding Career Opportunities for Mid-Level Employees

Recognizing that many mid-level associates in roles such as Patient Care Tech, Administrative Assistant, or Health Information Tech also had more upward mobility potential, CCHMC began offering Expanding Your Career and Healthcare Opportunities (ECHO®) to its employees in 2019.

CCHMC SAW and ECHO 2020 Virtual Graduation Celebration

Liz Keith is a Facilitation Consultant at CCHMC, and is also an ECHO® coach. Liz recently commented that “ECHO reaches a different group of employees, those looking for help with career development and professional aspirations at CCHMC.” Liz works with students on resumés, networking and other skills. Liz says, “We love the cohort aspect of it. Learning about other roles from students in the cohort with them. Advancement is of interest. They’re looking for something more and want to remain with Cincinnati Children’s.”

CCHMC has seen career advancements from SAW and ECHO graduates. Students take a customized Career Interest Survey providing them with ideas for career avenues. There have been 8 promotional moves from the last 2 SAW® and ECHO® classes.

Tiffany Puska, a Health Unit Coordinator II at CCHMC is a recent ECHO® graduate. She applied for the programs because she had wanted to further her education, but had been out of school since 2002 so was a little apprehensive at first.  Tiffany said the course on Medical Terminology helped her communicate with both patients and clinical staff better. After her ECHO® graduation, Tiffany felt so confident that created SMART goals to help long-term plan a little better, then applied to college and was accepted! She is now in her 3rd collegiate semester and will attain her Associates Degree in 2022.

Helping Associates Gain Skills, Move to Career Roles with Family-Sustaining Wages

Plans in the coming year call for expanding the network of leaders involved with the program, to help make student-mentor connections and to help participants infuse the workforce with knowledge and skills learned in SAW® and take it back to their respective worksites and teams.

Graduations, always a joyful occasion, were held in a special in-person ceremony prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and have been done virtually in 2020 and 2021. Sandy Puthoff, Rep III – Patient Scheduling Center and SAW® 2021 graduate, summed up the impact when she quoted Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper,

“I believe there’s a whole world of untapped potential buried within me, hoping that I’ll be brave enough to unearth it. I also believe there’s a whole world of untapped potential within you. And it’s hoping, waiting to see if you’re willing to set it free.”

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Mosaic Life Care Supports its Employee Caregivers with Skill Development and Opportunity

Even in a Tumultuous 2020, Mosaic Life Care Supports its Employee Caregivers with Skill Development and Opportunity

Sees Tremendous Impact on Retention, Internal Advancement

Mosaic Life Care (Mosaic) operates medical centers in St. Joseph and Maryville, MO, and has 60+ clinical facilities offering urgent, specialty, and primary care within Missouri and Nebraska. Mosaic offers a life-care model which combines traditional acute health delivery with a focus on key life elements which affect overall wellness. Mosaic has a commitment to health, well-being and the vitality of the community that it serves.

Being part of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, Mosaic is very focused on high-quality, data-driven, evidence-based medical care. It also takes care of its employees (called caregivers).  In 2020, Forbes magazine ranked Mosaic in the top 15 among 2,500 employers in Missouri for best state employer. Mosaic believes in its mission to serve the community through opportunity, workforce development, and employee career growth. It stresses that whatever employees choose to do in the organization, that each role is important and vital to patient care.

In 2009, seeing that environmental, admin, and nutrition caregivers were sometimes overlooked for leadership development opportunities, Mosaic began looking for ways to increase career growth and opportunity for its frontline entry-level team members. Mosaic also wanted to reduce turnover within these groups. To help with all these issues, the HR education staff found a program offered by Catalyst Learning called School at Work (SAW).

SAW is a comprehensive education and career planning experience that strengthens communication, core education skills, and medical terminology. It also helps entry-level caregivers understand the key role they play in patient care and impact on the HCAHPS rating. SAW helps health systems reduce turnover, increase employee engagement, and prepare employees for the next level of learning.

Micah Robison is a Workforce Development Specialist at Mosaic and also a SAW coach/facilitator.  Ms. Robison believes that sometimes a confidence builder is just what an associate needs. She states that,

“Many of the SAW participants didn’t have the best education background or have not had much opportunity.  But after SAW graduation, I hear things like ‘we can’t believe the change we have seen in her’ and the term ‘go getters’ when managers beam about employee work level. Managers are letting me know when ex-SAW graduates are applying for promotions. As a SAW coach, this gives me pride to know that my students are improving job performance and pursuing more job responsibility.”

Mosaic Life Care School at Work, 2019 Graduates.  15 people are standing clustered together holding flowers and certificates. They are standing in front of three projection screens showing "SAW Guest Speakers" at their graduation ceremony.
Mosaic Life Care School at Work Graduates

A SAW student at Mosaic felt so confident after her graduation that she entered nursing school. Another student working as a 3rd shift housekeeper used SAW to propel her to a job she had dearly wanted and  became an Access Rep. SAW coaches keep hearing about these “light bulb” moments when employee caregivers realize that their role within Mosaic is just beginning, and that there are growth opportunities within the health system.

To leverage SAW and promote career and responsibility expansion, Mosaic partners with local Missouri Western State University. This university offers 3 hours of elective credit for students that complete the 6-month SAW experience. This encourages SAW graduates to get back to school to take advantage of the credit.

Mosaic Life Care School at Work, 2018 Graduates (16 women shown in two rows with the back row standing. There are 10 in the back row and 6 seated in the front row. The group is smiling and are posed toward the camera
Mosaic Life Care School at Work Graduates

One of Mosaic’s SAW graduates who enrolled at MWSU is Aron Battreall. Ms. Battreal had been thinking about going back to school when she heard about the SAW program from a co-caregiver. She enrolled in SAW to get comfortable with assignments and to build confidence. She mentioned that Medical Terminology was particularly beneficial for her role. As a Medical Biller II, the terminology improved Ms Battreal’s efficiency and helped her expand the questions she asks insurance companies. She also has a better understanding of patients’ medical records.

Aron noted that “SAW boosted my confidence enough to go to my management team and express interest in taking on more responsibility. It also gave me confidence to enroll at Missouri Western State University and I will graduate with a BS in Population Health in December 2021.” Ms. Battreall also expressed the impact of the SAW opportunity on her loyalty to Mosaic.

Mosaic Life Care School at Work, 2017 Graduates. 11 people (7 women standing in the back, three women and 1 man sitting in a row in front, the man is on the right). Everyone is smiling and looking into the camera
Mosaic Life Care School at Work Graduates

“By investing in us, it makes my fellow caregivers and I feel appreciated, and I know my classmates and I work harder to be able to give back to the hospital.”

Aron Battreall, Medical Biller II, Mosaic Life Care

Mosaic has offered SAW since 2009 – that is 12 years of commitment to entry-level caregivers!  2020 was a particularly tough year because of COVID, but it did not stop progress. Mosaic offered two classes in March before the nationwide shutdowns.  It resumed class in May started offering hybrid learning models.  Mosaic even continued to have guest speakers from within the hospital present opportunities to the class via Skype. With a combination of outside-the-box thinking, flexibility with staffing issues, some IT support, and with open communication lines, SAW was able to proceed.

Experiences like this, even without a pandemic, aren’t available to entry-level caregivers without strong executive support.  Janelle Lee, Vice President of HR and OD, championed the extension of L&OD to include non-clinical caregivers from its beginning.  She describes Mosaic leadership’s cultural desire to “teach caregivers to fish”, its commitment to community development, and School at Work as “a backbone.” The health system’s goal for skill growth and education also means less employee turnover, and supports Mosaic’s greater goal to improve the community through health and opportunity.

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Emory Healthcare & Catalyst Learning – 15 Years of Frontline Workforce Advocacy

School at Work (SAW®), a career development system for entry-level healthcare employees, has proven to develop viable paths for career progression and shown significant changes in day-to-day performance in frontline employees at Emory Healthcare, according to Anne Nelson, Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness and Talent Management. Nelson goes on to tell us that participants’ supervisors have said that

these graduates are more willing to take initiative and speak up, now that they feel like they have a voice.

Emory Healthcare, a leader in innovation, has a celebrated history of stellar accolades ranging from positive patient satisfaction scores to its advocacy for the frontline non-clinical workforce. Emory Healthcare is the only National Cancer Institute Designated Cancer Center in Georgia and the only health system in Georgia with three Magnet-designated hospitals. Nationally ranked for quality among the top ten percent of academic medical centers in the U.S according to Press Ganey[1]Emory Healthcare continues to set the standard for all aspects of care in Georgia time and time again.

Recently recognized as a 2019 CareerSTAT Frontline Healthcare Worker Emerging Champion[2], Emory Healthcare uses SAW® to provide frontline workers with a stepping-stone into certificate or degree programs. SAW® is a comprehensive program that strengthens communication, grammar, reading, and writing skills as well as providing a well-developed career plan within the organization. A typical SAW student has a high school diploma or GED and works in Dietary, Environmental Services, Housekeeping, as a Nurse Aide or in an entry-level office position. Using adult learning principles with a Blended Learning Model, SAW® has produced completion rates considered best practice in adult-learning.

Debra Longo, Corporate Director of Organizational Development and Learning Services at Emory says, “we long to find the right formulas, processes, and approaches to retain our frontline workers. There’s such a competition in the market for so many positions that we need that are critical to the business of healthcare.

SAW® gives us a chance, to engage some of our frontline workers in learning and in the mission of the Healthcare System.”

Sandra Barber, Emory’s Training Specialist and SAW Coach of 7 years, says “From a Coach’s perspective, you get to see folks who come in as frontline workers who have some very low confidence around their potential and their abilities in the skill development area. Barber goes on to say, “Once they complete SAW®, the associate feels more connected to the organization. When they’re back at work, they have a better sense of their ‘Why?’. You realize that your role is much larger than you and that your intent as well as your impact matters. They feel like they have a future in the organization.”

When setting their new five-year OE plan, Nelson wants to continue to outline expectations, provide resources and training, and measure the outcomes associated with programs.  “We look at our progression – the number of people who graduate from SAW® that then go into our Emerging Leaders program and our New Leader Foundation program.”

With SAW® as a contributing factor, Nelson states, “We have seen career progression, advancement into leadership roles, and leaders recognizing significant changes in performance for those who have completed SAW. I want to make sure that it’s hardwired into internal career progression at Emory Healthcare.”

Nelson also speaks to the efforts she made to facilitate the connection between the executive team and the SAW® students. “For our first graduation, we invited the executive team including the Chief Executive Officer, at the time John Fox. John was so incredibly moved by the stories of our graduates thanking the executives for giving them a second chance.” She has spoken at all sixteen School at Work® graduations held at Emory Healthcare and continues to make sure that the program gets recognition from the executive team. President and CEO Jonathan S. Levin, MD, FACR says, ”Emory Healthcare’s vision is to provide the best place to work, learn, and grow by creating an inspiring work environment for our frontline workers and teams that allow them to contribute to their highest level.”[3] With more than 200 School at Work® graduates over the past 15 years, Emory continues to push their drive for excellence stretching from every corner of its hospital system. In 2020, despite the challenges placed on them as a result of COVID-19, 28 Emory employees graduated from SAW® in April. This group worked together to create a plan that they stuck to, ensuring they finished their class on time.

Catalyst Learning Company (CLC), creator of School at Work, was founded to increase access to education for low-wage workers; adults who have been left behind and aspire to “do better”. CLC provides high quality skill and career development programs to healthcare organizations across the U.S. These programs target the frontline associates of the organization – from entry-level individuals to first-level supervisory nurses. Catalyst Learning is honored to serve 600+ acute care hospital customers, including Emory Healthcare. Many of Catalyst Learning’s customers are nationally recognized for their efforts in providing education and opportunity for healthcare frontline workers, including nine who have been recognized by CareerSTAT as Healthcare Workforce Champions.  Learn the “9 Ways Hospitals can Support Frontline Healthcare Workers, and Create a Winning Culture!”


[1] Magnet Recognition.” About Emory Healthcare. Accessed 08 August 2019.

[2] Christenbury, Janet. “Emory Healthcare recognized as emerging champion for School at Work program for frontline health care employees.” Emory News Center. 19 July 2019. Accessed 08 August 2019.

[3] CareerSTAT Frontline Healthcare Worker Emerging Champion Emory Healthcare; Education as a Priority for the Frontline Workforce.” National Fund for Workforce Solutions. Accessed 08 August 2019.

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Mercy Adopts New Technology to Educate & Advance Frontline Coworkers

Mercy serves millions of patients each year, with a health network that comprises more than 40 acute-care hospitals and nearly 900 physician and outpatient facilities across Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Arkansas. Mercy is the country’s seventh-largest Catholic healthcare system and employs more than 40,000 people.

Mercy’s mission statement is to deliver patients a transformative health experience. But Mercy has another calling of service, one to its coworkers. In addition to outstanding leadership development, Mercy is deeply committed to advancing and educating the ministry’s frontline workers.

Mercy aims to improve compensation for low-skilled co-workers. Through its Social Determinants of Human Dignity Committee, senior leadership builds opportunity and career development tracks for these lower paid coworkers. Mercy offers tuition advancements, apprenticeship programs, internships, plus supportive HR policies like medical premium assistance and affordable childcare. Removing barriers to career advancement for lower paid coworkers is part of Mercy’s ministry.

Building on workforce development efforts that originally began in 2004, Mercy and Catalyst Learning collaborated to provide a new microlearning solution for developing employees.

CLiMB is an online library of focused microlearnings for entry-level coworkers who are working in a healthcare setting. It focuses on key work concepts like basic professionalism, communication, productivity, managing stress, and providing exceptional customer service.

All of CLiMB’s 10 to 15-minute learning modules enable learners to practice real-world scenarios in order to improve their performance on-the-job. During the recent virus pandemic, remote learning and development has become even more crucial for all healthcare facilities.

Talent Development Sees the Positive Impact of CLiMB

Beth Kinsey, a Senior Specialist of Talent Development at Mercy, commented that much of the feedback from CLiMB was that it helped co-workers process information.

“Learners are asking clarifying questions with their leaders,” Kinsey says, “They’re repeating information back to leaders and seem more engaged when tasks are being explained.”

Effective listening and preparation for tasks is part of the module “Listen for Accuracy.” This module teaches learners to avoid distraction when speaking with leaders, to clarify what is being said, and to take accountability for what information was processed by asking clarifying questions.

Soraya Humphries, another Senior Specialist of Talent Development at Mercy, commented that CLiMB really opens up accessibility of L&D to so many more of Mercy’s lower-paid coworkers because it is all online. “All departments within the health system, clinical and non-clinical, have been accessing CLiMB,” says Humphries. There have been 469 individual learners and 2,146 total modules completed.

Examples of how MicroLearning is Being Applied by the Front-Line During COVID-19

One CLiMB participant in the Emergency Department at Mercy was going through a COVID-19 outbreak preparedness training this Spring. She suggested to HR that the CLiMB module “Speak to be Understood” should be included in the package of that training, because giving concise instruction is so important during crisis situations.

Another CLiMB worker-learner commented that she is now more intentional about listening before contemplating her responses. She has learned to paraphrase instructions that are being given back to her manager and is asking more clarifying questions to help comprehension.

Another course participant gave similar feedback, commenting that she now stops working on any activity and fully focuses on what her manager/nurse is explaining in order to not be (or seem) distracted.

A mid-level manager commented that she uses the ‘4 Best Practices for Speaking Effectively’ to get lots of needed information out to entry-level coworkers on her busy evening shift.

One supervisor said that he uses the CLiMB module “Engage with Customers” to help motivate his staff to improve customer service. He references this module at huddles and in 1:1’s, and strives to model these behaviors as he interacts with his staff. This module helps coworkers to communicate with customers in a way that positively impacts their experience.

Finally, another supervisor said that he uses CLiMB to help diffuse occasional team conflict. He said that CLiMB gives good guidance on handling difficult situations, and it assists his team to better communicate during stressful moments.

The 3-step strategy of responding thoughtfully, avoiding blame, and focusing on the future resonated with his team, and they revisit this conflict diffusion strategy when needed.

Through Scalable Applications Come Opportunities for Career Advancement

CLiMB offers Mercy the opportunity to scale-up the quantity of co-workers who can be served with development opportunities and can be used by many learners at a time that is convenient for them. Coworkers can access CLiMB microlearnings independently, with their leader, or in a learning lab at a hospital for example.

To market the availability of CLiMB to its frontline workers, Mercy uses open enrollment and internal communications like health system newsletters. Education leaders at Mercy are seeing that most courses are taken because of self-motivation from coworkers, not because of any management mandates or deadlines.

Besides just offering this as a soft-skills training opportunity, it also lets Mercy see which coworkers are most interested in career advancement. If HR sees that a coworker is completing every one of the modules, that can foster a conversation, and generally the coworker then informs managers of a desire to advance or take on more responsibility.

CLiMB offers the opportunity for HR and management to track course participation, and quarterly goals are set for each department. Course completions, how many times a course is accessed, unique page views, and what departments are completing the most courses are all tracked. Mercy even keeps a “Top Ten” list of engaged departments for fun. Manager’s subjective feedback is monitored as well.

One mid-level manager for example cited that she had team members who were looking for skill development and advancement opportunities. This manager discussed the need to her senior leadership, and was made aware of all the resources CLiMB offered. One of the modules included was even a “Your Healthcare Career: Set Yourself Up for Career Success” module. This manager was excited to be able to take all this learning and development opportunity back to her team.

Looking to the Future of Talent Development in the Front-Line Workforce

A future goal of Mercy is to use CLiMB’s available Coaching Guides for better 1×1 teaching opportunities, and to integrate CLiMB into its upcoming Career Development Academy. This academy will be an intentionally designed learning burst opportunity, and the most crucial leadership capabilities will be taught to high potential candidates. CLiMB should integrate perfectly since it proves how short, targeted, scenario-based learnings can have a big impact on employees and their performance.

It is likely that Mercy will always be at the forefront of frontline employee education. Mercy understands that it isn’t just about an altruistic outreach to its employees, it’s also about preparing the frontline co-workers who touch and impact the patient. Career development within a healthcare setting requires a variety of tools to fit the unique needs of employees, including work schedules, family situations, and education or advancement goals.

Mercy is recognized by Fortune 100 and CareerSTAT for achievements in advancing entry-level employees. Catalyst Learning is honored to be a contributor in this system’s employee engagement success.

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TriHealth: Partnering to be the Employer of Choice

This article was written by the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, designating TriHealth Inc. (southern Ohio) as a CareerSTAT Frontline Healthcare Worker Champion employer. 

TriHealth is Cincinnati’s fifth largest employer, bringing together two acute care hospitals and more than 120 locations. TriHealth provides a wide range of clinical, educational, preventive, and social programs. TriHealth’s on-hospital services include physician practice management, occupational health centers, home health, and hospice care. Working Mother magazine recognized TriHealth as one of the 100 Best Companies for Working Moms,” a designation it has received nine times. Truven Health Analytics has named TriHealth as one of the nation’s top 15 health systems.

In 2009, TriHealth seized an opportunity to partner with the Health Careers Collaborative of Greater Cincinnati (HCC) to provide greater access to learning and foster advancement for entry-level employees. The HCC is a partnership of local healthcare employers, community-based organizations, and educators.

HCC programs include:
– Associate’s Degree Cohorts: TriHealth selects participants with little or no prior college education to form a supportive cohort that will stay together from start to graduation. Students can obtain degrees in nursing, surgical technology, respiratory therapy, and medical lab technician. Supports for these cohorts include:
» Tuition billed to the employer
» Assistance for remediation courses, when necessary
» A career coach who supports job search upon graduation
» A community college advisor
» Specially scheduled evening sections for HCC courses and no wait list for clinical courses

– School at Work®: SAW provides on-site learning opportunities, enabling employees to stay on the clock while attending weekly two-hour lessons on professional and academic skills. TriHealth builds in additional instruction in basic literacy, mathematics, and interviewing.

– CareerCare: This web-based career exploration tool allows participants to learn more about healthcare career options. 100 employees went through the pilot program and TriHealth is planning to offer it again. Several entry-level participants have applied for promotions or enrolled in college.

– Patient Care Assistant (PCA) Training: TriHealth pays the tuition cost and hourly wages for incumbents and new hires moving into the PCA role. This can include up to three weeks of full-time training for those who are not already State Tested Nurse Assistants (STNA).

In fiscal year 2013:
>> 137 State Tested Nurse Assistant and Patient Care Assistant trainees completed their training.
>> 10 employees graduated from SAW.
>> 2 HCC participants attained an Associate’s Degree in Nursing, passed the NCLEX exam, and were promoted to Staff Nurse positions.
>> 20 trainees achieved their STNA certificates; 64 trainees achieved their PCA certificates.


Reduced Turnover:
– Turnover was 5.7 percent for SAW participants vs. 19 percent for non-SAW participants annually.
– Turnover was 1.2 percent for HCC cohort participants vs. 14.5 percent for non-HCC cohort participants.
– TriHealth estimates that it saved close to $210,000 in turnover costs by effectively retaining these employees.

Job Satisfaction:
– 65.7 percent of HCC participants indicated complete satisfaction with their job vs. 46.2 percent of non-HCC participants.

“At TriHealth, much of our success depends on our ability to attract, retain, and develop the talent we need to provide quality care. As an organization we realize the importance of developing the skills of our employees. In fact, it is a major strategic initiative of ours.” —John Prout, President and CEO, TriHealth, Inc.

A few years after starting a secretarial position at TriHealth, Stephanie enrolled in TriHealth’s School at Work® program. Later, when TriHealth offered its employees the opportunity to participate in HCC’s nursing cohort, Stephanie jumped at the chance. The prepaid tuition, additional SAW grant funds, and evening course schedule helped make her dream of becoming a scrub nurse possible. In 2012, Stephanie graduated with her ADN, obtained her license soon after, and became a staff RN for TriHealth. Her pay has increased more than 50 percent since this journey began.

Mercy Health: Living the Mission through Education of Frontline Coworkers

Providing educational opportunities to frontline co-workers is deeply rooted in the mission of Mercy, headquartered in Chesterfield, Missouri, whether they work in rural areas or the ministry’s largest hospitals. Leaders of Mercy recognize that education allows co-workers to realize their abilities, advance financially, and improve their own sense of dignity. Sister Mary Roch Rocklage, RSM, health ministry liaison and a respected leader in the healthcare community, understands that education is inherent to improving the lives and capabilities of ministry co-workers.

“Education ties in to what we are about,” Sister Roch said. “It comes from a Latin word – educare – that means you draw out and lead forth additional knowledge from inside a person, and you teach them how to use that knowledge.”

The desire to include all co-workers when developing its Compensation for Lowest-Paid Co-workers initiatives prompted Mercy to expand Catalyst Learning’s School at Work (SAW) program from St. Louis and Springfield to across the organization. SAW helps frontline co-workers refresh essential skills, such as the basics of reading, writing, math and communication, and gain a better understanding of healthcare-specific subjects during their work hours. It also gives co-workers knowledge and tools to improve job performance and potential for upward mobility.

In addition to SAW, Mercy offers ECHO (Expanding Your Career and Healthcare Opportunities®), which uses a blended-learning model to enhance critical thinking and advanced communications skills. The program prepares students for a degree or certificate program while increasing engagement and motivation.

“SAW and ECHO are natural iterations of our core mission,” said Tanya Marion, regional vice president of human resources for Mercy. “We have co-workers who possess a great deal of talent. The programs allow us to help augment those positive qualities that are natural to them while extending their opportunities at work.”

The emphasis on skills and development programs for frontline co-workers is especially impressive given the range of communities served by Mercy. It is the sixth largest Catholic healthcare system in the U.S. and serves millions of people annually. Mercy includes 32 acute care hospitals, four heart hospitals, two children’s hospitals, three rehab hospitals and one orthopedic hospital, nearly 700 clinic and outpatient facilities, 40,000 co-workers and more than 2,100 Mercy Clinic physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Whether they work in rural areas or the ministry’s largest hospitals, the mission of Mercy is to serve.

“When you think about all the communities where we serve, we range from small towns in rural areas to multi-faceted organizations in larger communities,” Marion said. “Smaller hospitals and communities may not have the opportunities for additional learning because of the geography in which they live. We want to support our co-workers in smaller communities as much as those facilities and cities with larger groups of people.”

“It’s the whole idea of oneness,” said Sister Claudia Ward, RSM, a specialist in Mercy’s Talent Development and Optimization division. “Mercy is one body with many parts. We certainly want to share the wealth of what’s piloted and successful in one area across the ministry.”

While Mercy leaders like Marion and Sister Claudia recognize that programs like SAW and ECHO require an investment by healthcare organizations, reduced turnover and improved succession planning mitigate the financial investments associated with the programs.

“In healthcare, we’re all trying to do more with less,” Marion said. “Sometimes that results in the idea that there’s not enough time or resources to invest in training and education. But it’s because of those constraints that it’s even more important to invest in these programs. We have an opportunity to make a small investment for a huge return. Lower turnover and higher engagement are investments that pay off.”

“Who touches and impacts the patient? It’s our frontline co-workers,” Sister Claudia said. “Who has one of the largest impacts on patient experience? Again, it’s the frontline co-workers. When we invest in these co-workers, we enhance the learning and productivity of the organization.”

Site coaches provide guidance and feedback for program participants. Jan Dieke, clinical education specialist in Mercy’s Talent Development and Optimization division, is a coach for Mercy’s SAW program who sees her role as both educator and “cheerleader.”

“Catalyst Learning gave me the tools to be an effective SAW and ECHO coach,” Dieke said. “A major aspect of the program is providing opportunities and giving encouragement to participants. I call myself a cheerleader because we are there to encourage even the smallest achievements. We see their potential and provide positive feedback and constructive criticism.”

To help share the success gained from educational programs like SAW, Mercy has used a virtual classroom format that allows management or human resource professionals from one facility to support training and development classes at other facilities within the system.

“Technology must work for the virtual classrooms to succeed and that takes getting the right coworkers throughout Mercy working together to coordinate the conference rooms, laptops, webcams, participant guides and other tools for each remotely participating location, in order to facilitate continuity and cohesiveness among all participants,” Dieke said.

As a result of Mercy’s emphasis on training and education for its frontline co-workers, the success and achievements of program participants have benefited those co-workers personally and professionally while also enhancing patient services across the ministry. Education and talent specialists like Dieke and Sister Claudia agree that co-workers gain new confidence in their positions, have a newfound and positive outlook, and become open to other job opportunities within the ministry. Sister Claudia cited a recent survey of SAW graduates and found that 86 percent reported an increase in confidence, which she said can only be a positive boost to patient services as well.

“SAW incorporates patient and customer service modules,” Sister Claudia said. “That allows us to talk about service – to talk about Mercy’s values and the expectations of our patients and co-workers.”

“It’s an extension of our overall mission at Mercy,” Marion added. “We take care of those in our care and those who help provide that care. We are a very large employer in many of the communities in which we serve, and this gives us an opportunity to give career paths for many of our fellow co-workers.”

Sister Roch said, “There’s a joy and pride you have in the women and men who go through the program. It’s a journey for them and opportunity for them to advance. It’s also an investment where you hope there’s a return for them personally, and if they stay with the ministry you hope they can grow along their journey.”

That growth has been seen in ministry co-workers like Rachel Blankenship, now a charge nurse with further ambitions to advance her career. Eight years ago, Blankenship began her career at Mercy in the Environmental Services Department. The SAW program gave her not only professional skills, but also the confidence to move forward with a new career. While most SAW students have a high school diploma, Rachel did not; after SAW, she went on to acquire her GED and started pre-requisites for nursing school. Blankenship was accepted into nursing school after she completed her pre-requisites and became an RN in 2011.

Debra Gouse is a graduate of the first SAW class at Mercy St. Louis in 2004. After completing the program, Debra completed college and went on to get her master’s degree in business administration.

Debra is the first to get a college degree in her family. Vergie Cooper, an environmental services tech, has graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and is now planning to begin work on her master’s degree.

Alan Chapman, human resources manager at Mercy, cites Blankenship, Gouse and Cooper as several of the many success stories that have resulted from the SAW program.

“It’s the spark in the students – that’s where success starts,” Chapman said. “But you have to show them a path or make them aware of other opportunities. When they’re in class, they might be exposed to a job they weren’t aware of or we might set up a scenario for shadowing or learning more about a position. We want them to be self-directed and motivated but you have to help plant that seed and encourage it to grow.”

The growth of SAW graduates like Blankenship, Gouse and Cooper has helped Mercy HospitalSpringfield reduce turnover in traditionally high areas such as housekeeping, while also increasing the overall tenure of frontline co-workers. Marion said the program has increased levels of engagement and provided Mercy more opportunities to promote from within.

“We have the experience of working with these participants so they are a known quantity,” she said. “These are people who are doing great things, and we are moving them into other positions.”

Sister Roch summed the impact of Mercy’s longtime partnership with Catalyst Learning by how the educational programs have supported the ministry’s mission for 10 years.

“Catalyst Learning is investing in women and men who serve because of their great respect for them and their dignity,” she said. “We started our partnership with Catalyst Learning when there was a deep concern for how Mercy could invest money into bettering the lives of our co-workers. We only accomplish our mission by investing in our people.”

Additional successes achieved by Mercy’s SAW students:
• Ernest Blackburn: Advanced from environmental services tech 1 to supervisor of environmental services.
• Sakiba Delic: Transitioned from financial counselor to human resources recruiter.
• Silvia Miranda: Advanced from interpreter to lead interpreter.

Lakeland Health Leads From The Future

Everything is changing at Lakeland Health in Southwest Michigan, and the transformational leadership team there is embracing it head on. From talent retention to community involvement to the organization’s mission, Lakeland Health is rapidly adapting to the new healthcare landscape, and their team members are leading the way.

The top item on Lakeland’s agenda is transforming the workforce, beginning with a cultural change. “Talent first thinking” puts team members in the driver’s seat, empowering them to take charge of their own careers. “Listening with the heart” encourages stronger teams, relationships and diversity throughout the organization.

Tracy Braman, human resources executive director for Lakeland Health, describes the culture as one of collaboration with a high level of compassion. Part of the cultural transformation includes changing the language they use.

“In our HR mission, we use the word love, so I would say we have a loving culture,” she said. “One of the ways we show love and support to our team members is our commitment to believing in them and their development.”

Lakeland Health has 4,000 team members and more than 50 locations in Southwest Michigan, including three hospitals with a combined 370 beds. The organization has aligned its mission, vision and values with the community. The most deliberate shift, according to Braman, has been the change in name from Lakeland Healthcare to Lakeland Health, signifying a vision that goes beyond traditional healthcare and hospital visits.

“We are much more than a hospital, we are a part of the community,” said Braman. “Our goal is to create a culture of health for both the patients we serve and our employees.”

The vision for transformation includes creative health initiatives for Lakeland team members. The leadership team, for example, will be testing a Mediterranean diet in January. The meal plan emphasizes healthy fats found in olive oil and nuts along with fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, while avoiding red meats, dairy and processed foods. If the results are positive, Lakeland plans to roll out the diet to all team members. This is a pilot we are doing through our population health transformation team, we have 13 transformation teams. We are building the capacity to transform throughout the organization.

Lakeland’s leadership efforts extend beyond its walls, too. Lakeland Health President and CEO Dr. Loren Hamel is a member of Michigan’s Great Southwest Strategic Leadership Council, an effort to help accelerate positive change in Southwest Michigan and attract and retain millennials – people who may lead Lakeland in the future. There are a number of Lakeland leaders on the larger council, and also the Leadership Accelerator program which is one part of the council. The overall council’s vision is: Michigan’s Great Southwest is a vibrant and prosperous region to live, learn, work, invest, grow, play and retire for everyone.

Inside the organization, Lakeland builds leaders with its own education department called Lakeland University. Strong internal training programs prepare the existing workforce for the demands of the future with new skills sets and relationships that cross traditional department lines.

Leading Towards the Future (LTF), for example, is an intensive 18-month program that focuses on collaboration, emotional intelligence, crucial conversations and resilience to change, among other areas. The first LTF class of 15 graduated in February 2015, and 50 percent of those team members have since made upward or lateral movements to new roles. The first physician-based LTF class, with 18 participants, will graduate soon.

In addition to a development track for leadership, Lakeland offers programs for frontline team members and recently graduated its first School at Work (SAW) class. SAW combines learning with career development, while improving job performance, employee engagement and retention. According to Braman, the SAW pilot program was a big win for Lakeland Health and its focus on developing frontline staff. Six out of eight individuals who participated stated they are going back to school.

“We want to develop team members where we have a great deal of diverse talent and support their upward movement so they are prepared to fill higher-level roles in the future,” said Braman. “School at Work has been vetted and validated by other healthcare organizations, so we know it works. With so much going on in health care — transforming at the speed of light — there are too many priorities to build one more thing internally.”

Braman says programs like SAW give team members confidence and support they may not have had before and open doors that may not have been opened otherwise.

“We see additional benefits, too. One of our HR business partners works with a Lakeland University team member to facilitate SAW, and they learn new skills by teaching the class,” said Braman. “And our LTF graduates serve as SAW mentors. The relationships they are building are key, and there is great value in that.”

With regular “heart to heart” communication between team members and leaders, Lakeland Health has forgone performance evaluations. Employees are also encouraged to apply for new positions at their own discretion, and HR encourages the support of the manager.

“Everything is changing,” said Braman, “and we love it.”

AtlantiCare Invests In All 5,700 Employees To Support Its Mission

Located in southern New Jersey, AtlantiCare, a member of Geisinger, is an organization that considers every employee at every level of the organization to be an important part of achieving the goal of helping patients reach optimal health. AtlantiCare relies on its nearly 5,700 employees to make a difference in health and healing, one person at a time. From a bedside nurse, to a cook preparing food, or a technician servicing computers, everyone plays an important role in building a healthy community. Employees respond well to being recognized as valuable parts of the team; in a recent company survey, 94% of AtlantiCare employees said that they would recommend working at AtlantiCare to friends or family.

AtlantiCare has been well recognized for how it takes care of employees and values each employee’s contributions. It has received many awards and designations, such as Diversity Inc. Top 12 Hospitals in the country award, 2017 Healthcare Equality Index Leadership in promoting LGBTQ patient centered care, New Jersey Business Outstanding Employer Award, and an American Heart Association award for its efforts to help employees improve their health and well-being.

AtlantiCare works with every employee to show them their importance to the organization. Each year, every employee gets a strategy map that assists them in identifying their annual goals. These strategy maps create a clear line of sight between the work of individuals and departments and the achievement of organizational strategic goals. All 5,700 employees can articulate how their strategy map aligns to the organization goals.

The system provides leadership development courses and programs to employees. For instance, “Pathways to Leadership” is targeted to employees who are not formal leaders, but have a goal to become one. The program is a 10-month process that combines classroom-based education, exposure to senior leaders, and special projects which support organizational goals. Higher level senior leaders mentor the project teams, which helps build employee networks and cross-department communication. Each team project is based on the organization’s performance excellence mandates: Best people, best quality, best growth, best customer experience, and best financial performance. Roseann Kobialka, assistant vice president of Organizational Development, states “AtlantiCare has always recognized that employee engagement is critical to the success of our company. When we are able to align the work that we do and the skills that we build around the needs of our community and our organizational direction, we attain the best of all outcomes: engagement, alignment and achievement.”

Another leadership program for newly hired or newly promoted leaders is “Foundations of Leadership,” which teaches behavioral skills and historical knowledge about the company. It is a 2-day immersion course, and clarifies organizational expectations of leaders. “Foundations” also introduces the new leader to important support departments such as legal, finance and human resources.

AtlantiCare, as part of its emphasis on personal and professional development, also offers a robust tuition reimbursement program for employees who go back to local colleges to obtain degrees or certifications.

For more than a decade, AtlantiCare has delivered Catalyst Learning’s School at Work (SAW®) and Expanding Your Career and Healthcare Opportunities (ECHO®) programs as an important first step in developing leaders in all parts of the company. Recently, AtlantiCare surveyed its many employees who had participated in SAW to evaluate their career growth, post-graduation. The survey found that:

  • 37 percent of AtlantiCare’s SAW graduates now have more job responsibility.
  • 39 percent have been promoted since graduating from SAW.
  • 42 percent have changed departments since graduating from SAW.
  • 9 percent went on to earn a professional certification.
  • 21 percent went back to school to earn an associate degree.
  • 31 percent returned to school and earned a bachelor’s degree.

“The SAW program makes you think about what you really want for your next opportunity or career path,” said one survey respondent. “It opens your eyes to how large the company is and how many avenues there are to take within it.”

Edison Feliciano, a former SAW graduate, found the courage to completely change careers within the company. After graduating, the operating room technician pursued a career in AtlantiCare’s Information Technology department, attaining a higher level of responsibility and compensation. Another SAW graduate, Wendy Carr, became the team leader of the Customer Service Support Team after graduation.

One of the most important SAW courses for AtlantiCare is Principles of Patient Safety and Satisfaction. This course helps employees to see how their work aligns with the HCAHPS survey, and how each employee can take ownership in making a positive impact and safer environment. It is more than just the DVD and workbooks, the discussions connect it to student’s day to day jobs.

AtlantiCare’s Ken Bishop has co-facilitated both the SAW and ECHO programs since the company first began using them. Bishop said AtlantiCare is committed to supporting its employees’ professional advancement and personal growth.

When classes begin, Bishop said, it’s clear that students are nervous. By the end of the program, however, they are standing in front of their classmates, making presentations and sharing newfound knowledge.

“I joke that they’ve grown three inches. It’s because their posture changes. You can see it in how they carry themselves and interact with each other,” Bishop said.

Bishop said enrolling in SAW or ECHO requires a certain amount of courage and vulnerability, especially for employees who have been in the workforce for years.

“These employees haven’t been in formal schooling for a while or they didn’t have any formal schooling after high school, yet they’ve been professionals for a number of years,” said Bishop. “Now we’re asking them to do something different, asking them to do something new, asking them to do something uncomfortable. Over the years I’ve been involved with SAW and ECHO, it’s been wonderful to see the growth that happens,” Bishop said.