Most high school seniors can’t wait to walk across the stage on graduation day to get their hands on that precious piece of paper bearing their name. Others like Michael Holmes, however, are willing to wait an extra year for their diploma if it means they have an opportunity to gain the necessary skills needed to become a productive member of society.
Holmes, 19, could have received his diploma last year with his fellow classmates at Olentangy Orange High School, but instead, he chose to forgo receiving it so he could apply for an internship at OhioHealth through the Project SEARCH program.
Developed in 1996 at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital as a way to help train people with developmental disabilities to fill high-turnover, entry-level positions at the hospital, Project SEARCH has spread throughout the country with one goal in mind — secure competitive employment for people with disabilities.
Locally, OhioHealth Grady Memorial Hospital instituted the Project SEARCH program several years back, which has given students like Holmes the chance to learn valuable workplace skills through a partnership with the Delaware Area Career Center (DACC).
Maddy Shumaker, who has served as the Project SEARCH instructor at Grady for the past five years, said the program is available to students who suffer from a “significant cognitive impairment.”
“There has to be a need for them to be here and need these services to learn how to work in a workplace setting,” she added.
Those meeting the necessary criteria must apply to the DACC to be considered for the program. After applying, candidates then undergo an interview and skills assessment, and eight participants are ultimately selected to enroll each year in the Project SEARCH program at Grady.
“It’s a one-year program,” Shumaker said. “Our students are considered like a senior-plus, so they are still technically in high school to receive services, but they have completed all of their high school requirements and deferred their diploma.
“Most of the time, our students socially graduate with their class, but they don’t actually get their diploma,” she added.
Once the interns are selected, they are then assigned to a particular department within the hospital, where they receive all the help they need to successfully perform the job at hand.
Shumaker said while she would like to work with every interested department at Grady, program officials like herself have to consider the “liability issues” that certain departments present.
“Our students can’t do any work that is directly related to the patient, so we work a lot more in the support staff,” she said. “I would say our core internships here have been nutritional services, environmental services, supply chain and sterile processing. We are back where patients are, but we don’t have any direct patient contact.”
Holmes tackles internship
When Holmes first enrolled in the Project SEARCH program in August 2018, he hit the ground running in the area of sterile processing. While he learned the ins and outs of the job, Holmes recalled what he valued most about his time in that department.
“When I was in there, it was all about working together as a group,” he said. “The first time I learned about this experience about working together was way back in school when I was on the cross country team.”
Along with learning how to work as a team, Holmes said he would prep instruments for sterilization.
“I would like clean the stuff for eye surgeries in a washer,” he said. “It would take at least a half hour for them to wash up.”
Shumaker added, “(Michael) would actually help prepare the instruments to be fully sterilized. Depending on the instrument or the set needed, he would help put that together before it went through the sterilizer and then into storage until needed for a surgery.”
To help diversify his skill sets, Holmes has moved on from his sterile processing duties to a supply chain position.
It’s Holmes’ job to help make sure dwindling supplies are reported so they can be ordered and restocked.
“I scan items that have been taken for like patient rooms so they are stocked for later,” he said.
In addition, Holmes also helps fill orders needed throughout the hospital, and when new items arrive, he helps stock them for future use. It’s a job he enjoys, because he is able to help make life a little easier for the Grady staff.
“I like working hard with picks (pulling needed items) and putaways (stocking for later use), mostly,” Holmes said. “Usually, they just give me a paper, and I just do it for them to help them get it done quicker to make their job easier.”
Mindy Sanford, senior advisor of operations at Grady, said staff at the hospital is grateful for the help they receive, and they genuinely enjoy working with the students.
“Our staff sees the program as a big benefit,” she said. “I think it enables them to do some teaching that they don’t necessarily have on a normal day-to-day basis. The benefit that these students provide is high quality work, and they are so engaged in learning. They want to do a good job.”
Sanford added the Project SEARCH program is a win-win situation in every aspect.
“It’s a great partnership. One of the key components to OhioHealth is involvement in the communities, so this is a wonderful way that we can be involved in the community in a true partnership,” she said. “It enhances the services we are able to provide, and it enables our staff to be able to give back to the community in ways that are different besides just normal patient care.”
Shumaker said the relationship between the interns and staff is much more than the students simply serving as “an extra pair of hands” to help with daily tasks.
“I think staff learns a lot about what it means to work with an individual with disabilities, and what it means to help our students grow and develop themselves as a worker,” Shumaker said.
Holmes added he is grateful for the opportunity to work alongside Grady staff.
“I enjoy trying different internships and learning different job sets before going out into a real job,” he said. “It really helps, which is why I did this program. I find it really interesting, and I think it’s really helping. It’s like getting practice before an actual job happens in real life.”
Once the school year wraps up this May and Holmes’ time in the program comes to an end, he has his sights set on two things in particular — getting his driver’s license and earning a paycheck.
“I’m thinking about getting my temps, hopefully soon, and hopefully a good job,” Holmes said. “I was thinking about maybe working in a hospital in like supply chain or sterile processing. I was thinking between one of those.”
Shumaker said there is always the chance Holmes ends up working in one of OhioHealth’s central Ohio locations, whether that be Grady or one of the bigger hospitals like Riverside or Grant.
“There have been times that a student is doing really well and the department enjoys working them, and sometimes it ends up in an actual job,” she said. “Departments are kind of getting a look into what our students can offer them and potentially have a hireable person for their department.”
On average, Shumaker said in a typical school year, two of the eight interns at Grady end up with a job at OhioHealth.
“It just really depends on what jobs are available and the student’s interests,” she said. “If there is interest and we feel like that student is capable of the standards of OhioHealth, then we absolutely look to those opportunities.”
If a position at a hospital doesn’t pan out, Holmes said he wouldn’t mind working in a “grocery store or landscape business.”
Joshua Keeran is the editor of The Delaware Gazette. He can be reached at 740-413-0900.