A more inclusive workforce: Creating employment opportunities for neurodiverse individuals

Five Project SEARCH interns in blue polos

Observed annually each October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) celebrates the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities and showcases supportive, inclusive employment policies and practices that benefit employers and employees.

HCA Healthcare’s commitment to disability inclusion is aligned with our mission: Above all else, we are committed to the care and improvement of human life. Named one of the “Best Places to Work for Disability Inclusion” by the American Association of People with Disabilities and Disability:IN, we work to ensure colleagues with disabilities and their caregivers continue to feel a sense of belonging and have equitable access to opportunities in the workplace.

Did you know? HCA Healthcare earned a top score of 100 on the 2023 Disability Equality Index for our commitment to workplace inclusion.

As we recognize National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we highlight employment opportunity efforts across our organization with two partners, Project SEARCH and The Precisionists, Inc.

HCA Healthcare is partnering with Project SEARCH to transform employment opportunities for people with disabilities at our hospitals – including Portsmouth Regional Hospital in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and HCA Florida Pasadena Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Project SEARCH’s Transition-to-Work Program is a unique, business-led employment preparation program that takes place entirely at the workplace. Interns are selected each year to participate in the nine-month training program that combines classroom instruction, career exploration, and hands-on training through worksite rotations. This program was developed to provide opportunities for people with disabilities to secure competitive, integrated employment.

Portsmouth Regional Hospital

Five Project Search interns wearing blue polos
Portsmouth Regional Hospital in Portsmouth, New Hampshire has partnered with Project SEARCH since 2011.

Portsmouth Regional Hospital has been a hosting facility for Project SEARCH since 2011. Throughout the twelve years of partnership, 76 interns have completed the program and 50% of those interns accepted employment offers at the end of their placement.

Amy Lester, New Hampshire market director of volunteer services, shared, “Our role is not to run the program but to open our doors to the program and help make it successful. The results have been unbelievable across the board. Having the interns onsite has been invigorating and energizing for our facility. The energy level and the positivity of the interns really make a huge difference.”

The 2023 cohort consists of five interns who will complete rotations every three months in the mailroom, food and nutrition department, clinical equipment coordination and environmental services. The rotations offer an opportunity to make sure interns are working on different skills throughout the placement, including soft skills and everything that surrounds their success in the workplace.

HCA Healthcare colleagues participate in the program by becoming mentors to the interns, offering weekly virtual support throughout the placement and ensuring the interns’ needs are met.

Priscilla Romero, vice president of human resources at Portsmouth Regional Hospital, partners with the Project SEARCH team to resolve any issues that may arise throughout the internship. Through her work, she gets an opportunity to witness their growth.

“When the interns first come into a department, it can be difficult because it’s a totally different environment for them,” Priscilla explained. “By the time they’re done with the rotation, we get to experience how much they have grown throughout their placement. Their self-confidence improves and blooms through this process.”

When asked about their favorite moment of Project SEARCH, both Priscilla and Amy share that the end of program graduation is a true testament to the impact the interns have on hospital culture.

“Graduation is one of my favorite celebrations because the amount of joy and excitement that comes out of that room is just phenomenal,” shared Priscilla. “Through this program, we’re living out our mission and commitment to diversity. We help our community by embracing the differences and working together to provide access to careers in healthcare.”

Amy added, “The number of staff that take time out of their day to come to the graduation is unbelievable. This program is successful because we have so much support at all levels of the organization.

HCA Florida Pasadena Hospital

Five people sitting in a room at a hospital.
2023 Project SEARCH interns with HCA Healthcare colleagues at HCA Florida Pasadena Hospital

In its inaugural year of Project SEARCH, HCA Florida Pasadena Hospital hosted five interns through their adult internship model for a nine-month placement. The interns experienced rotations in PBX telecommunications, food and nutrition and environmental services.

Levi Berk, facility operations manager, serves as the business liaison for Project SEARCH at HCA Florida Pasadena Hospital. Levi shared, “The interns are really excited to be here, and they work hard in every rotation they do. There is also a lot that we’ve learned from having the interns work with us. It has brought teams closer together and colleagues have answered the call to mentor. Not only have the interns inspired our colleagues to serve, but they have helped transform departments into families.”

Vyron Folds, diversity, equity and inclusion director for the West Florida Division, serves as a mentor and shared his personal connection to this program, “This initiative hits home for me because I have a daughter with disabilities myself. I want all individuals to be supported in the same way that I would want my daughter to be accepted and supported. It’s everything to me to notice these individuals thriving and I’m extremely proud that HCA Florida Pasadena Hospital is helping play a role in that.”

The hospital recently held its first Project SEARCH graduation ceremony. The interns had a successful internship experience and are graduating from their placements with the necessary tools to be competitive in the job market. Out of this current class, three students have received job offers and will continue being a part of the HCA Florida Healthcare family. The other interns are currently seeking placements in fields of interest through 1:1 career coaching.

With the success of the Project SEARCH program at HCA Florida Pasadena, they plan to restart the program in 2024 with a focus on the youth model (ages 18-22).

“I want for this program to continue to grow, but most importantly, I want for individuals with disabilities to know that organizations do exist that celebrate their contributions and strongly believe in the value they bring to the workforce.”

Vyron Folds, diversity, equity and inclusion director, HCA Healthcare’s West Florida Division

Bringing neurodivergent jobs to Music City with The Precisionists, Inc.

Kurt Jones at a podium during a press conference for The Precisionists, Inc.
As part of a neurodiverse workforce collaboration between The Precisionists, Inc. and HCA Healthcare, Kurt Jones, software testing analyst, works alongside colleagues from HCA Healthcare’s Information Technology Group.

In September 2023, HCA Healthcare partnered with The Precisionists, Inc. (TPI) – an organization focused on creating jobs for individuals with a broad range of disabilities – to announce the expansion of TPI’s neurodiversity employment program in Nashville, Tennessee. The initiative commits to bringing 500 neurodiverse careers to Music City and is expected to make a significant impact on the neurodiverse workforce to build meaningful careers.

In 2018, TPI established an Innovation and Technology Center in Nashville, expanding its capabilities to support Nashville companies in creating opportunities for neurodiverse job seekers. TPI’s innovative employment model has a 94% retention rate after a year of employment for its workforce. HCA Healthcare and other Middle Tennessee-based organizations like Cat Financial and Dollar General teamed up with TPI to extend their reach by offering IT and business services employment opportunities.

“We’re proud to work with TPI to help provide more employment opportunities for talented individuals in Nashville,” said Marty Paslick, chief information officer for HCA Healthcare. “We have already seen the positive impact of their neurodiverse employees on our organization and look forward to continuing our partnership.”

The Precisionists assess, train and employ neurodiverse adults to carry out project-based work, including software development, software testing, database analytics, cybersecurity, back-office accounting, data entry and auditing reports. The Precisionists expects steady growth, as it has experienced in the other markets it serves. TPI plans to create more than 500 Nashville jobs for adults with autism and neurodiversities within the next three to five years. 

Nicole Tremblett, Tyson Norman, Kurt Jones, Daniel Diermeier, Ernie Dianastasis and Keivan Stassun at The Precisionists, Inc. media event.
From left to right: Nicole Tremblett, vice president, HCA Healthcare Information Technology Group; Tyson Norman, vice president and CIO, Cat Financial; Kurt Jones, The Precisionists, Inc., software tester supporting the HCA Healthcare project; Vanderbilt University Chancellor Daniel Diermeier; Ernie Dianastasis, CEO, The Precisionists, Inc.; and Keivan Stassun, director of the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation at Vanderbilt and Stevenson Professor of Physics and Astronomy (Harrison McClary/Vanderbilt)

About HCA Healthcare

HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 183 hospitals and more than 2,300 sites of care, in 20 states and the United Kingdom. Our more than 283,000 colleagues are connected by a single purpose — to give patients healthier tomorrows.

As an enterprise, we recognize the significant responsibility we have as a leading healthcare provider within each of the communities we serve, as well as the opportunity we have to improve the lives of the patients for whom we are entrusted to care. Through the compassion, knowledge and skill of our caregivers, and our ability to leverage our scale and innovative capabilities, HCA Healthcare is in a unique position to play a leading role in the transformation of care.

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