St. Luke’s aide in ‘Next Step’ of Workforce Board program
Makita McFarlane of Easton saw her dream of becoming a nurse put on hold when she became pregnant.
Ordered to bed rest, McFarlane, 22, had to stop taking the prerequisite classes she needed to get into nursing school.
Then, when Alexandria was born four weeks early in October, McFarlane had to quit her job as a reserve nursing home aide because the hours were too irregular to get the tiny infant on a schedule.
Thanks to St. Luke’s University Health Network, the 22-year-old single mother is back on track. She recently was hired as a patient-care assistant at St. Luke’s-Bethlehem. The full-time job includes tuition help to attend the St. Luke’s School of Nursing.
McFarlane’s new job is because of a St. Luke’s program, “Next Step,” which is finishing its fourth session. “Next Step” is for new mothers and pregnant women ages 17 to 24 who live in Lehigh and Northampton counties, have a high school diploma or GED and are economically-disadvantaged.
The goal is to break the cycle of poverty with training for entry-level health care careers that offer a livable income and chance for advancement, according to Victoria Montero, Network manager of St. Luke’s “Health Equity Initiatives.”
McFarlane spent the last six months learning to become a patient-care assistant, a job that includes bathing patients, monitoring vital signs, drawing blood, checking glucose levels and assisting nurses with patient care. Once she is settled in her job, she plans to go back to school to finish her prerequisite classes and enroll in nursing school.
“When I saw an opportunity for me to get closer to what I want to do as a career, I took it,” McFarlane said during a break at the Medical ICU unit, St. Luke’s-Bethlehem.
St. Luke’s offers two, six-month “Next Step’ sessions a year for up to 20 women. During the sessions, participants use assessment tools to determine their job interests.
They receive 20 hours of work experience a week for jobs that include billing and unit clerks, outpatient registration, patient care assistant, receptionist and medical assistant. They receive three hours a week of life-skills and professional development in areas that include family planning, leadership and finances.
“‘Next Step’ is a just one example of the many programs though which St. Luke’s touches the lives of people throughout the Lehigh Valley,” said Dr. Bonnie S. Coyle, chairman of Community Health and Preventative Medicine at St. Luke’s.
“Next Step” got its start after St. Luke’s was awarded a grant through the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which aims to help individuals with barriers to employment, including younger adults, obtain jobs with livable wages, Montero said.
St. Luke’s University Health Network had a successful healthy baby program in place for low-income woman where nurses make home visits from early pregnancy through the first two years of a child’s life. Called the “Nurse-Family Partnership,” it provided St. Luke’s with mothers eager to give their children a better life, Montero said.
The $154,000 grant covers the cost of the Saturday professional development classes, expenses such as uniforms and the salary participants receive during training, said Cindy Evans, director of youth initiatives at Workforce Board Lehigh Valley, which administers the grant.
St. Luke’s staff serve as mentors when the students learn their jobs. The Network also picks up administrative expenses.
Of the 30 women who started in the first three sessions, 24 completed it. Fifteen have found jobs at St. Luke’s. Eight are employed in other jobs, according to Casandra Ortiz, an Adolescent Career Mentoring Programs coordinator who oversees “Next Step.”
Evans said St. Luke’s is more than meeting its goals, considering the barriers the young mothers are up against. “They have to figure out how to get to work, what to do with their child. The youth we are targeting are hard-to-serve individuals. That’s why that’s a great performance outcome,” Evans said.
Deb Schroettner, patient care manager for the oncology unit at St. Luke’s-Bethlehem, is among the managers who welcomed “Next Step” students on her unit. She has since hired five.
Schroettner said “Next Step” students typically haven’t had a lot of life experiences and many never held a job. “They learn accountability. They learn responsibility. They learn how to be part of a team,” she said.
Jaclyn Finelli, coordinator of Adolescent Career Mentoring Initiatives, said “Next Step” is a game-changer for participants once they find jobs. Many are surprised to find they can go off public assistance. “They have a means to support their babies. They have a salary. They have health care. They have vacation time,” she said.
Additionally, Finelli noted, “Next Step” encourages young mothers to further their education once they finish the program and find jobs.
That’s what Jurysan Cruz, 23, of Allentown plans to do. Cruz was working two jobs and taking prerequisite classes to get into nursing school when she became pregnant.
She didn’t have to think twice about enrolling in “Next Step.” Her sister, Jaritza, went through the program and now works as a patient access representative in the Emergency Department at St. Luke’s-Allentown.
Cruz was hired as a part-time patient-care assistant in the Medical-Surgical Unit at St. Luke’s- Allentown in May 2018, two weeks before her son, Akius, was born. Today, her nursing school dreams are once again within reach. “It’s a good thing,” she said.