Modern Healthcare

MetroHealt­h project spurs training of Hispanic constructi­on workers

- — Harris Meyer

When MetroHealt­h in 2017 launched a $946 million campus transforma­tion project in Cleveland, the second-poorest large city in the nation, constructi­on firm owner Adrian Maldonado saw a big opportunit­y.

He and other Hispanic contractor­s met with MetroHealt­h CEO Dr. Akram Boutros, who proposed setting aside 5% of the work for Hispanic firms. But Boutros insisted they hire workers from the low-income, heavily minority neighborho­ods by the hospital. That was in line with MetroHealt­h’s goal of using the campus transforma­tion to revitalize the surroundin­g area.

So Maldonado and his colleagues worked with the Spanish American Committee community organizati­on to start classes to train local Hispanic residents with little or no constructi­on experience, preparing them for good-paying union jobs working on the new, 11-story, 270-bed MetroHealt­h hospital.

Since last year, nearly 60 local residents have gone through the six-week evening program—qualifying them for federal Occupation­al Safety and Health Administra­tion certificat­ion—and gotten jobs with constructi­on contractor­s. They’ve earned more than a half-million dollars during that time. The goal is to place a total of 100 local Hispanics in constructi­on union jobs by next year.

One is Maritza Lopez, a 45-year-old single mother of four who had been working as a low-wage security guard and had never done constructi­on before. Now she’s doing iron rebar work as a union apprentice, earning $16 an hour plus good benefits, with the potential of making $24 an hour.

“It’s hard work, and I strive to be better every day. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime work experience,” she said.

Another former student, Gonzalo Sanchez, said he was running a small business and struggling to pay his family’s

It’s hard work, and I strive to be better every day. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime work experience.” Maritza Lopez, union apprentice (above)

bills when he heard about the training program. After completing it, he landed an apprentice job and is on his way to making $32 an hour with good benefits as a journeyman.

By contrast, the not-for-profit Center for Community Solutions this year reported that 39% of Cleveland’s residents and 50% of the city’s children are living in poverty.

“My bills are paid, I have a bank account, my health insurance covers treatment for my high blood pressure, and I feel secure,” Sanchez said.

Gus Hoyas, president of the Hispanic Contractor­s Associatio­n and one of the program’s organizers, said the support of MetroHealt­h and Turner Constructi­on, the project manager, helped enormously in opening union jobs to Hispanics. “We’ve had a (hard) time getting these doors open,” he said.

Yvonka M. Hall, executive director of the Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition, said the while all the hospitals in Cleveland could do more to improve overall community health and well-being, MetroHealt­h provides care for the poor and uninsured and offers nutrition, social work and other programs that are vital. She questions Cleveland Clinic’s commitment on issues such as preventing and treating cancer among black men.

“I’ve seen MetroHealt­h’s footprint in the community,” she said. “With Cleveland Clinic, when I see things they’re doing, it’s not community-based, it’s more corporate-based.”

Boutros acknowledg­ed that helping 100 or 200 people find good-paying jobs won’t solve the stark socio-economic disparitie­s that hurt population health outcomes.

“We may solve it for fewer people,” he said. “But we’ll create a solution that others can adapt.”

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