When Licking County students applied to the Project SEARCH internship program at Licking Memorial Hospital last year — they had an idea of what to expect.
They would end their high school experience with three different internship experiences — interacting with patients and gaining job skills.
In the midst of a global pandemic, some of those expectations had to change.
But on a recent Zoom call — as interns sat socially distanced around a table, wearing masks — they were still able to laugh together.
Although the pandemic has kept them physically away from many of the typical intern experiences, it’s brought the group closer together, said Tina Angeletti, Project SEARCH instructor.
Flexibility and the willingness to accept challenges are important life skills and this year’s interns are gaining those every day.
“They are all doing a great job of being present,” Tina said. “We’ve seen them adapting and enjoying their internships.”
In its fifth year at LMH, Project SEARCH gives young adults with disabilities the opportunity to spend an entire school year at LMH, gaining the training and soft skills they need to transition from school to adult life.
Project SEARCH is a partnership between LMH, the Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities, the Licking County Educational Service Center and Greenleaf Job Training Services, Inc.
This year’s group of interns includes:
With the current COVID-19 restrictions, interns have not been working on floors where they could interact with patients. That’s led to some departments taking two interns instead of one.
“They have been very flexible with us,” Tina said.
One group of interns attends class while the others work in their assigned internship, and then they switch, to create smaller groups of students, she added.
Masks, social distancing and hand washing have also become part of their routine.
“I have to compliment all the participants”, said Tammy Elliott, a job coach with Green Leaf. “They are all willing to use masks, and we haven’t had to give them a lot of reminders about them. They are doing hand washing, using lots of sanitizer like they are supposed to. When we have to switch things up, they are always receptive and adaptable.”
Olivia said she is enjoying her first rotation in sterile processing — where masks and scrubs have always been a requirement.
She’s learning to set up trays and clean and prepare supplies. She recently completed the industry standard of 75 correct instrument trays in 15 minutes.
“I like doing all the different things in there,” she said.
Aiden and Matthew have been learning a lot of new skills in Maintenance and Engineering. Aiden is getting more familiar with the hospital’s wood shop and he and Matt both helped build with drywall. Matt built a handrail by himself and is learning to use a blow torch.
“They are excelling very well and learning to use different tools,” Tina said.
With COVID protocols in place, the hospital has not had volunteers coming in. So Nicole and Natis have been rotating between helping in the Volunteer and the Concierge departments.
From packing goodie bags to making bows and sewing robes, they’ve been keeping busy. They are already working on projects for Christmas.
“I like the people (we get to work with),” Nicole said.
Cody, Chrissy and Alex are hard at work cleaning and sanitizing, which is especially critical during the pandemic.
Cody has been interning in the Environmental Services department and Alex and Chrissy are in the Culinary department. Alex is working in the dish room and Chrissy has been cleaning tables, using an in depth COVID protocol.
Gabe has spent the past five weeks in the Purchasing department working on a big project, sorting and bagging masks to be delivered throughout the hospital. Now he’s going to finish his first rotation in the Acute Rehab department.
This year, Green Leaf Job Coaches Lexi Bennett and Linda Parzero have joined Tammy in supporting the students as they learn their internship responsibilities.
“I’m really proud of the group. We have been impressed with their work ethic,” Lexi said. “They’ve been hard workers with great attitudes and I’m really proud of how they have grown and adapted.”
The students feel comfortable asking questions, and talking with Tina, Tammy, Lexi and Linda when they have concerns or feel nervous about a certain task.
Working together as one big team, they’ve been able to keep things going smoothly.
“One of the most important things about any kind of work is to expect the unexpected,” Linda said. “They’ve adapted so well to all these daily changes.”
Photos provided by Darlene Montgomery, Licking Memorial Health Systems.