Bon Secours Virginia Health System will recognize 25 Virginia high school seniors with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and/or intellectual disabilities for their completion of Project SEARCH, a national school-to-work program at four Bon Secours facilities across Central Virginia and in Portsmouth. Project SEARCH provides hands-on training to students with disabilities through internships at health care facilities and other businesses, with a goal of gaining employment upon completion. Bon Secours Virginia is the only Project SEARCH program also participating in clinical research.
Bon Secours Virginia’s four Project SEARCH sites are funded through a grant awarded to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Rehabilitation Research and Training Center from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. Bon Secours’ Project SEARCH partners include local public education systems, VCU Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, and Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS). The partners provide additional funding as well as support and services to the students in the program.
“Bon Secours has supported Project SEARCH for six years. We launched the program at St. Mary’s Hospital and have expanded it to include four of our hospitals statewide. We are honored to be part of Project SEARCH and to assist students as they achieve academic, interpersonal and professional success,” said Toni Ardabell, CEO, Bon Secours Richmond Health System. “I often hear from employees that their experiences with Project SEARCH students have changed employees’ lives, and in many cases, learning occurs for both the student and the employee.”
At celebration events held in June, Bon Secours will award diplomas to the students for completing nine-month Project SEARCH internships at St. Francis Medical Center in Midlothian on June 2, St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond on June 5, Maryview Medical Center in Portsmouth on June 9, and Memorial Regional Medical Center in Mechanicsville on June 10.
Also in June, Bon Secours St. Francis Medical Center will receive the Employer of the Year Award from the Virginia Division on Career Development and Transition (VADCDT) at the “I’m Determined” Youth Summit in Harrisonburg. This award will be given to St. Francis in recognition of their commitment to hiring young adults with disabilities in Virginia.
“It is a pleasure to help these student interns with autism and intellectual disabilities develop the skills they will need to gain employment after graduation. We look forward to continuing the program and welcoming many more Project SEARCH interns to our Bon Secours facilities next year,” said Ardabell.
Through Project SEARCH, facilitated by a research team at Virginia Commonwealth University, students were assigned to a Bon Secours hospital in their county during their senior year of high school. Each student rotated throughout various departments in the hospital, completing three unpaid internships. Teachers, teaching assistants and job coaches provided them with direct instruction during the rotations, collaborating with hospital department supervisors. Working with hospital supervisors and staff, the students received hands-on skills training, including stocking supplies, filing, copying, assembling paperwork packets, making deliveries, cleaning, sanitizing equipment, turning over patient rooms, providing patient care and customer service and putting together supplies for the nursing units. Each student set a goal of gaining employment by the end of the school year.
The Bon Secours Project SEARCH sites have gained national and international attention. In 2014, a New Jersey Supreme Court justice visited the interns at St. Mary’s Hospital. The Project SEARCH sites at Bon Secours have also hosted visitors from Saudi Arabia, Washington state and the Virginia General Assembly Autism Subcommittee.
Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about one in 68 children have been identified with ASD, and it continues to be an important public health concern as challenges are placed on public school systems, families and communities.
Research studies at all four Bon Secours Project SEARCH sites, funded through the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), have examined effective methods enabling students with ASD to successfully transition from high school graduation into successful employment.
With 25 students receiving diplomas in June, the health system has awarded diplomas to 102 students with autism and intellectual disabilities since 2009, with nearly 66 percent obtaining employment following graduation.
To learn more about this program, here is the contact info-
Jennifer Todd McDonough, M.S., C.R.C.
Director of National Autism Research
Associate Director of Training
Virginia Project SEARCH Statewide Coordinator
P.O. Box 842011
1314 W. Main St.
Richmond, VA 23284-2011