PACE Program Partners with Rush University Medical Center
By Robert Schroeder
National Louis University and Rush University Medical Center are rekindling an old partnership.
In the early 1990s, the University's PACE program, providing independent living and professional preparation for students with cognitive disabilities, sent its first batch of student interns to Rush at its original location in Skokie. Today, both partners are focusing on creating a strong internship-to-hire program that will provide access to meaningful employment for PACE students.
"Instead of looking at diversity in traditional terms, we thought, why not look at diversity in terms of people with cognitive disabilities," said Jaime Parent, Vice President and Associate Chief Information Officer at Rush. "At Rush, our job is to take care of patients but to also build a healthy community, and this has added to what we do here at Rush."
PACE students intern six hours per day, three days per week at Rush in a variety of capacities. In 2010-11, PACE's five interns were placed in Environmental Services, Transport Services, the Office of Corporate Finance and Supply Chain Management. The interns are unpaid and are treated like any other employee.
"We expect our students to have a certain amount of independence when they go to work," said Barb Kite, assistant professor in the PACE program. "We want our students to develop relationships with co-workers and supervisors."
PACE relies on Rush supervisors to be the experts on the job, while PACE provides training at teaching the job. Unlike some internship placements for students with disabilities, PACE students are not paired with a job coach who provides intense supervision over the course of the day. Real on-the-job training is one facet of PACE's approach to preparing students for independent, professional living.
Parent is familiar with this approach's success on a personal level. His son, Brian, is autistic and graduated from the PACE program. After an internship in the Rush University warehouse, Brian now works full-time at the warehouse.
"When we first got the diagnosis, both my wife and I struggled with all the things involved with having a child with a disability, and we learned a lot from people who walked a mile in these shoes," Parent said. "When the time came for us to give back, we wanted to help others navigate the waters."
The U.S. Department of Labor calls Americans with disabilities the single largest and most diverse group in the United States and a major untapped source of qualified job candidates. Workers with disabilities have the lowest attrition rates of an employee group in the country and generally score equally or higher on performance ratings compared to workers without disabilities. Parent says that employers have not tapped into this workforce because they are unaware of the skills disabled people hold or are unable to identify with the individuals as potential employees.
"A lot of job coaches don't expect clients to find a career or a real job, but we are training for careers or to do something lifelong they can sink their teeth into," said Carol Burns, assistant professor in the PACE program.
Rush is considering seeking grant funding to provide paid holdover internships for PACE students who finish the program until a full-time job opens at Rush. The next batch of interns will start at Rush this fall.