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Keeping the Job

Tuesday, August 10, 2004 at 4:20 PM

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At a time when jobs are scarce in many fields, industries employing low-wage workers struggle to deal with high rates of staff turnover. ideastream's Cindi Deutschman-Ruiz reports on a local effort to give workers the tools they need to stay where they are.

Tell me why you work.

Pay bills. Take care of the children. Get away from the children. (laughter)

It’s a misty, quiet day outside, but in a conference room inside the Pleasantview Care Center in Parma, about a dozen women are making noise. They’re on a break from work, enjoying comradery and a snack, as they talk about what work means to them.

If you don’t go to work, what’s your world like? Boring. Why? Doing nothing. Got no money. Need to do something. Be occupied. Don’t have routine…

For 20 years, Debbie Lucci has counseled people facing serious obstacles to work - like stints in prison or on welfare. Today her goal is to help these women keep the jobs they have. Lucci works for ACHIEVE, a program of the Cleveland-based job readiness organization Towards Employment.

In 2001, ACHIEVE was launched as a pilot at a handful of Northeast Ohio companies that used the program to cut their turnover rates in half. Lucci says low-wage workers often face a variety of personal crises that keep them from getting to work on time, and focusing on the job while they’re there.

Debbie Lucci: My car breaks down, what do I do? how do I get to work? I don’t know how to take the bus, I’ve never done that before. My childcare fell through; all (of) the sudden, I realize I have no back-up childcare.

Lucci makes herself available to employees at Pleasantview and her other sites whenever they need her, and she leads half-hour sessions every two weeks. The sessions address issues ranging from communication in the workplace to personal finance.

Rosetta Goodwin, who works at Pleasantview, says she had some concerns about ACHIEVE in the beginning. She was worried she would be too shy to speak up. Instead, she’s become one of the most vocal attendees, and says she never misses a session.

Rosetta Goodwin: You go home feeling happy, you come to work feeling happy knowing it’s Wednesday something different’s going to change.

Diane Barrett: It’s working out beautifully for our facility.

Diane Barrett is director of Human Resources at Pleasantview. She says participating in ACHIEVE was an easy choice.

Diane Barrett: We have a lot of entry level positions, be it dietary, housekeeping, nurse aides. And they tend to stay in one place for a few months and then move on. So we’re trying to improve retention by making them happy at our facility, so they don’t feel the need to go elsewhere.

Pleasantview currently receives ACHIEVE’s services free of charge. That’s because the facility is participating in research into the program’s effectiveness - research that’s now in its second phase. The study is being funded by the federal Department of Health and Human Services. But Barrett says she plans to pay for ACHIEVE’s services once the research is complete. It’s a decision that some sites from the first phase of the study have already made. Mark Beggs is executive director of the Eliza Jennings Home in Cleveland. He says his workers have clearly benefited from ACHIEVE.

Mark Beggs: We have people here who through achieve have actually purchased homes. Things they wouldn’t have known they were were able to do, or had any idea how to proceed. We have people that are exploring going, furthering their education.

Beggs says he’s appreciated the opportunity his employees have had to better themselves through ACHIEVE, but as the program has continued at Eliza Jennings, he’s worked with Lucci to tailor the program more to his particular needs.

Mark Beggs: Really, what I wanted her focus to be on was my new employees, mostly nursing assistants here within the first 90 days… because that’s when I lose them. If they make it past 90 days, they for the most part realize what a great place this is. I need to get them to the point where they can experience that. Some of them have so many issues in their day-to-day lives that they don’t even make it 30 days.

In 2002, the American Health Care Association sampled turnover rates among Registered Nurses, Nursing Supervisors, Licensed Practical Nurses, and other staff in nursing homes across the country. The AHCA found rates ranging mostly between 35 and 50%, though certified nursing assistants needed to be replaced at rates of over 70%.

Employers now receiving services through ACHIEVE say it’s too early to tell exactly how it is affecting their turnover rates. But they believe the program boosts morale - a sentiment echoed by Rose Goodwin at Pleasantview Care Center. She says the program is improving the attitudes of oldtimers and newcomers alike.

Rose Goodwin: A lot of their attitudes is changing. The ones who attend achieve, their attitudes are changing a lot: where before you couldn’t stomach them, now you sit beside them in achieve.

Indeed, it’s not just the practical advice that Goodwin and other participants appreciate getting from ACHIEVE. It’s also the sense of community that develops among the staff through the program. In Cleveland, Cindi Deutschman-Ruiz, 90.3.

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