MetroHealth project spurs training of Hispanic construction workers
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.”