Urban hospitals boost local hiring
When University of Chicago Medicine held a job fair at a local church a couple of years ago, hospital officials expected a few hundred attendees. To their surprise, about 1,100 South Side residents showed up. The University of Chicago Medical Center hired more than 100 of the applicants.
“That’s part of our DNA as one of the largest employers on the South Side— to provide opportunities for people who truly want jobs, understand what we do in healthcare, and want to make a difference in people’s lives,” said Daryl Wilkerson, the system’s vice president of support services.
The hospital began partnering with area churches and community organizations about 10 years ago in an effort to boost local hiring. The hospital is in the affluent, predominantly white Hyde Park neighborhood, where the Obamas have a home. Surrounding Hyde Park are neighborhoods that are predominantly lowerincome and black.
Like UChicago, other urban hospitals also are trying to address their communities’ economic needs by stepping up local hiring, said Erika Poethig, director of urban policy initiatives at the Urban Institute. They realize that employment is related to good health, and that providing jobs is one of the most important things they can do to help their communities. “When you have higher unemployment and greater incidence of poverty, this has a health consequence,” Poethig said.
Massachusetts General Hospital each summer employs hundreds of high school and college students from economically disadvantaged areas in Boston. The Cleveland Clinic offers paid internships to city public-school students. Penn Medicine has enrolled more than 225 West Philadelphia high school students in a two-year workstudy program that prepares them for medical jobs.
Responding to this year’s unrest in Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System announced HopkinsLocal, an initiative aimed at filling more jobs with residents from distressed Baltimore neighborhoods and increasing the use of minority contractors and vendors from those areas. Explaining the move, the presidents of Johns Hopkins University and the Hopkins health system wrote, “The health and well-being of Johns Hopkins are inextricably tied to the physical, social and economic well-being of Baltimore.”
By hiring locally, hospitals get employees who better understand the community they serve. And local hiring might be a way for not-for-profit hospitals to show they are providing the community benefit that justifies their tax-exempt status, Poethig said. That’s increasingly important as the Affordable Care Act reduces the need for charity care.
At the UChicago Medical Center, 23.3% of employees live on the South Side of the city. Leif Elsmo, the system’s executive director of community affairs, said that while local hiring is part of how his organization demonstrates community benefit, there are broader reasons for this hiring approach. “There were unemployment issues that existed in many of the neighborhoods around us, and it just made sense to figure out who’s working on these issues, who’s training people, and how we can connect to the communities around us,” he said.
The hospital has found particular success in hiring locals through partnerships with community organizations, which help find candidates with the right skills and interests and often provide job-readiness training. “It’s not enough to just post jobs,” Elsmo said. “You have to be in collaboration with different community groups to get people into the process.”
Wilkerson, who supervises food service, security, housekeeping, patient transportation and parking, said the partner organizations help the hospital find candidates who are passionate about customer service. “We can train you for the skill, but your attitude is what we really want,” he said. “We’ll go deep to get a person with a tremendous attitude.”
One such partner organization is Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, a public-private partnership that matches businesses with qualified people who are unemployed or underemployed. That program connected the hospital with lifelong South Side resident Anna Pearson, who had been working as a security officer in downtown Chicago.
After two interviews with Skills for Chicagoland and two more at the hospital, Pearson landed a job as a public-safety coordinator at UChicago Medical Center, which is much closer to her home.
Pearson, 30, who has been working at the hospital for more than a year, greets and directs patients and family members when they arrive at the medical center. “I get to work with different people and I get to be of assistance,” she said. “People trust you.”
She hopes to become a manager one day. The university’s local hiring program, she said, “gives everybody, no matter where you’re from, a chance to excel in life and build a career.”