Connie Pada says she loves her job and her employer says they love having her there.  That can be a pretty rare combination in today’s workforce, but not within Project Search at Aurora BayCare Medical Center.

“Project Search is a program that works with developmentally disabled folks and helps them truly find a job,” said. Jeff Waise, director of Inpatient Pharmacy at Aurora BayCare.  Waise is also the Business Liaison for Project Search at the hospital.

“It’s preparing young people with significant disabilities for success,” Waise said, “and this is the key part, in competitive, integrated employment.”

Project Search is a national program which aims to give people with learning disabilities an opportunity to shine in their workplace.

“I love working in this hospital,” Pada said.

Pada currently works in foodservice.

“I cut up broccoli and cauliflower,” Pada explained, “putting dips in these little cup things and then serve food.”

She also knows her way around the rest of the hospital, how to read the maps directing visitors to various departments and likely has a better understanding of the various roles within healthcare than many outsiders.

“The people from Sports Medicine came up and talked to us and tell us what kind of jobs they do,” Pada shared. “We help them find the code to see if they’re good or bad, the medicine.”

Pada is one of six Project Search interns currently involved in the program at Aurora BayCare. She and her friends rotate between working in various departments within the hospital.  They’re also learning computer skills, how to write and send emails, and do a Google search.

Waise says Project Search is part of the hospital’s long-term strategic plan for diversity and inclusion among their workforce.

“As we look at diversity and inclusion, people with significant disabilities, developmental disabilities are part of that diverse culture,” Waise said.

Waise says the response to the program at Aurora BayCare has been overwhelming right out of the gate, with 22 departments signing up to participate even though only six rotations were required. He says the program’s success can be seen on many levels.

 “We are right now in a labor crunch as is the rest of the nation and having that extra set of hands there is outstanding,” Waise explained.

He says with all the pressures facing healthcare workers over the past year, this program is providing so much more than an extra set of hands.

“What we see day-to-day,  we are busy, we are overwhelmed, we are understaffed and yet we still have this distraction of this wonderful person being in our department that actually turns our frowns into smiles,” said Waise.

That kind of positive impact on emotional well-being goes both ways.

Reporter: “What about you? Are you proud of yourself?”  

“Oh yes!,” Pada said, with a smile that did indeed brighten the whole day.