Steve Howell hatched a hiring plan after seeing the high energy levels of teenage workers at a favorite dinner spot.
As director of nutrition services for Lexington Medical Center, Howell was frustrated with the quality of applications he was receiving for folks looking to deliver food trays to patients. Some applicants failed drug tests; others provided false information.
So Howell set out to solve the problem on two levels. By hiring teenagers like those he had seen working at Hudson’s Smokehouse, he could fill the jobs at the hospital and help instill a work ethic in the next generation of workers.
The opportunity to work in the hospital environment is unique for a young worker. Common industries that employ teenagers are retail and restaurant and food services, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And gaining work experience is critical as they prepare to graduate into one of the toughest job markets in decades, where unemployment levels remain stuck at high levels.
The hospital has hired about 30 high school students since the program began about a year ago, but turnover is high due to graduations, promotions, transfers and terminations, Howell said. About 10 more students will begin working at the hospital next week. The workers are treated like regular employees, Howell said.
Kendyl LeGrand is one of about 10 local high school students currently working in the program. The White Knoll High School senior wants to become a nurse so the opportunity gives her first-hand experience in the medical atmosphere.
“It’s my foot in the door to see if I like (working with) patients,” she said.
LeGrand delivers meals to patients through the meal system, which is meant to reflect room service at a hotel as opposed to stereotypical hospital food.
“It’s not like you’re eating Jello and peas at 5 o’clock,” said Jennifer Wilson, public relations manager for the hospital.
Patients place their food orders and workers deliver the meals within 30 minutes. LeGrand works at the hospital five days, or about 20 hours, per week.
During her shifts, LeGrand puts the finishing touches on food trays by placing sides, such as potato salad or milk, on the trays. She then loads several trays on a cart, which she pushes to patients’ rooms, taking necessary precautions such as putting on rubber gloves and coverings, when appropriate.
“Dining services,” she announces when she reaches a patient’s room. She can chat with patients, however, she is not allowed to touch them. If patients need help eating or adjusting their beds, then LeGrand finds a nurse to assist them.
The hospital scripts students on how to interact with patients, and the job requires the workers to have pleasant personalities, Howell said.
Brandi Shaner, a junior at White Knoll, enjoys seeing the smiles on patients’ faces when she arrives with a meal tray. Shaner took the job to help pay bills, but she has gained more than just a paycheck.
The job helps her develop her multitasking skills since her responsibilities include taking meal tickets, putting condiments on food trays, wrapping silverware, delivering trays and various other chores. The job also helps her face difficult situations and deal with her emotional reaction, she said.
Howell said he hopes the work experience sticks with them.
“The overall goal was to educate them in developing a good work ethic with an employer that treated them well. Even if they leave us, we know that we tried to make a difference in their life,” he said.