UVM Health Network works with staffing agency to help workers facing systemic barriers

The entrance to the Central Vermont Medical Center. Photo of the VTDigger file

As staffing issues persist, the University of Vermont Health Network has signed an agreement with a staffing agency that helps place workers through systemic barriers.

Working Fields, a South Burlington-based recruiting agency, helps recovering individuals, those convicted of crimes, and other disadvantaged job seekers re-enter the workforce while providing peer support.

The contract is for the healthcare network’s environmental services team, which includes highly skilled positions overseeing infection control and cleaning of medical equipment, patient rooms and other areas of healthcare facilities.

He is being trialled with 15 positions at Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin, the health network said. There are currently 35 openings of this type in health network affiliates.

Daryn Forgeron, Marketing Director of Working Fields, said the company was founded in 2017 “in response to our founder’s lived experience of recovery and incarceration, where he really saw how much employment is essential to personal well-being and how much of a systemic barrier it can be to health and a fulfilled life.

Even when a client gets a job, they may face obstacles such as transportation or childcare, so the agency tries to fill those gaps and provide clients with a helping hand to get back on track. right track, said Forgeron.

At a time when Vermont faces severe spikes in drug and alcohol abuse, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, Working Fields’ mission aligns with what health systems aim to do said Robert Patterson, vice president of human resources and clinical operations at Central Vermont Medical Center.

“Our main goal is to take care of patients, but we also help the community,” he said. “This contract by itself won’t really change the way we’re going to staff our hospitals, but it can help. …And it will really help make a difference in people’s lives.

Signed June 29, the temporary staffing agreement is between Working Fields and UVM Medical Center “on its own behalf and on behalf of its affiliates,” hospital spokeswoman Annie Mackin said. Planned as a pilot project, the health network will pay Working Fields per temporary employee in the hope that they can transition to permanent positions.

“We’re finalizing a few things right now, but we’re really excited to try it out. I think it will help us from a workforce perspective as well,” said Patterson.

Working Fields will provide a candidate to interview for such a position and, if hired, cover expenses such as their salary, insurance, and liability, while providing peer support to help them succeed. After six months, if it suits him, the person could move to a permanent position in the hospital.

Forgeron said Working Fields has already recommended a candidate for an environmental technician position who was once a patient at CVMC and believes the position would be “very fulfilling.”

The health network sees opportunities to expand the program to other areas that are also experiencing shortages, such as transportation, nutrition services and couriers, according to Mackin.

The model could be “one of the few win-wins that happens where we are able to help our community and people who are recovering find gainful employment. At the same time, it really helps the employer too,” Patterson said.

Founded on the belief that people who have made mistakes but accepted responsibility and entered into healing deserve a second chance, Working Fields has several established partnerships with employers in Vermont and New Hampshire, including Rhino Foods, Darn Tough, Lake Champlain Chocolates and American Meadows, and are excited about the new contract, according to Forgeron.

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