The VOICE of UPMC Shadyside Winter 2021–2022

Just Keep Swimming

How a unique training program changes lives and makes a better hospital

Taunia Johnson can never forget the horrible day she came home to find her son shot to death. For almost two years, she remembers feeling “traumatized so much that I couldn’t get my life back together. I couldn’t work. I was just in a fog.”

Then she heard about a new training program UPMC had launched for Environmental Services (EVS) staff. Successful completion of the five-week program would lead to a full-time cleaning job, with benefits, at one of UPMC’s urban Pittsburgh hospitals — as well as the potential to advance within the system.

Ms. Johnson’s favorite movie is Finding Nemo. It’s about Marlin, a frightened little clownfish who braves the terrors of the ocean to rescue his kidnapped son. Marlin’s courage grows as he learns a vital lesson: Even at life’s toughest moments, you have to “just keep swimming.” Ms. Johnson realized that she too had to find the courage to help herself heal. She had to “do things that make me feel strong.”

She applied and was accepted into the training program. “I liked what it offered,” she says. “It was really hands-on, and it was very helpful for me getting myself back on track.”

She has now been an EVS associate for more than five years, reporting every morning at 6:00 to clean UPMC Shadyside’s first floor.

“You never know what you might go through in life,” Ms. Johnson observes. “But once you’re going through it, you have to just keep swimming. If you don’t try, how are you going to make it?”

Ms. Johnson is especially grateful to several people for helping her get to where she is today: Annamarie Mumich of the Energy Innovation Center Institute; Erin Butti, senior recruiter, UPMC; Neal Kuzmanko, EVS supervisor — and the “awesome” John Krolicki.

John Krolicki, vice president of Facilities and Support Services, calls the EVS training program “my biggest accomplishment. It not only makes UPMC hospitals cleaner and safer but also changes people’s lives. It has reduced employee turnover and raised patient satisfaction. It’s a win all around.”

The seed for the EVS program was planted back in 2016, when Mr. Krolicki recognized that training for EVS associates needed to improve. “When associates were hired, some of them had never really been in a patient room,” he says. “They were not used to seeing people hooked up to ventilators or IVs, and that could be overwhelming for them.

“I thought, ‘Why don’t we invest in our employees and create a training program with a curriculum that really prepares them for hospital work?’ ”

The idea took off when Mr. Krolicki was introduced to the Energy Innovation Center Institute (EICI), a nonprofit that provides employment opportunities and life skills in the former Connelley Trade School Downtown. Together, they developed a course — and UPMC supported it with an investment of over $1 million to construct training rooms that look like hospital patient and operating rooms.

“Our goal is making sure our associates can show up to work and be successful because they’ve taken care of any issues that might stand in the way of that success.”
- John Krolicki, Vice President of Facilities and Support Services

Launched in March 2017, the EVS program now graduates about 140 EVS associates a year. Trainees are paid as they learn. Coursework includes an overview of UPMC and its core values, proper cleaning techniques for specific spaces throughout the hospital, infection and bacteria control, use of personal protective equipment, and patient and guest interaction. Trainees learn how to mix cleaning chemicals safely. They learn about and practice using various kinds of cleaning equipment. Teaching techniques include gaming, virtual reality, mock, and live training.

“Different specialties from the hospital come in and talk in the classes about the importance of EVS and what they expect,” says Mr. Krolicki.

“And then we also do basic life skills, which is really important. We talk about how you need a bank account for electronic deposit of your pay. We talk about daycare. If you have daycare issues, do you have that set up before you start to work? We talk about the importance of attendance. We teach interviewing skills. We talk about balancing work and family. Also about issues like getting to work. If you’re going to take the bus, have you looked at the route? What’s the bus schedule? We talk about career advancement at UPMC. There are many opportunities here for good workers.

“Our goal is making sure our associates can show up to work and be successful because they’ve taken care of any issues that might stand in the way of that success.”

The EVS training program has expanded to include a partnership with Literacy Pittsburgh to teach English as a second language (ESL).

“We were finding English to be an issue, especially with our Nepalese and Bhutanese population,” Mr. Krolicki says. “At the end of the ESL course, student survey results showed that 100 percent had more confidence in speaking English with patients and staff. It’s just been a great program.”

“I love this program,” says Alghazali (Al) Jones, an EVS supervisor at UPMC Shadyside. “It helped me get to where I am right now.”

Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Mr. Jones came to Pittsburgh via Kentucky with no job prospects. He began working with Landforce, a nonprofit that combines workforce development with land stewardship. Through Landforce, he connected with the EICI and the UPMC EVS course.

“I have a bit of a checkered past, so when I first tried to get in, it took a while,” he says. “But the EICI staff kept telling me, ‘Don’t give up, Al. Don’t give up.’ ” He graduated in December 2017.

“I started in the float pool, moving from hospital to hospital,” Mr. Jones says. “I chose that because it was a good way for me to learn my way around the city. Then I landed at UPMC Shadyside, in the Emergency Department. They loved me and I loved them. A floor tech position opened up, and they encouraged me to apply for it. And, happily, I got it!

“My ambition was to be a supervisor. I applied three times and didn’t get it the first two times. But I didn’t give up, and by the third time, I guess I had the right experience.”

Mr. Jones now supervises about 17 EVS associates on the 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift. “I started supervising in the Emergency Department and a couple of surgical areas.

“I feel good about myself. I’m definitely trying to stay on the right track. Just keep swimming, like Taunia Johnson says.”
- Alghazali (Al) Jones, EVS Supervisor

But I wanted a little bigger challenge, so I switched over to the patient rooms to try and see if we can help boost the patient satisfaction scores.”

He also attends CCAC, studying for his degree as an occupational therapy assistant. UPMC pays for this schooling.

“Oh, and I got married in October,” he says with a big smile.

“You know, I never held a job longer than six months before I moved to Pittsburgh,” Mr. Jones reflects. “So, this is the longest I’ve ever been successful at a job. I’ve been promoted like three or four times. I feel good about myself. I’m definitely trying to stay on the right track. Just keep swimming, like Taunia Johnson says. “I’ve encouraged many people to apply for a job at UPMC,” he adds. “UPMC pays for your school, the benefits, the savings and retirement plans. I mean, who wouldn’t want to work here? I was also fortunate to receive a grant from the Shadyside Hospital Foundation COVID-19 Employee Assistance Fund. That really helped me and my family during the first months of the pandemic.”

As John Krolicki says, “It’s hard to realize how lifechanging this program can be. I’ve talked to people who were at the point where they were thinking of taking their own lives because they couldn’t support their families. Or they’ve told me, ‘I never had positive reinforcement before in my whole life.’

“And now they are thriving. They’re some of our best employees.”

“Taunia Johnson even brought me a fishbowl and a little fish that looked like Nemo. She told me, ‘I just want you to have this because this program changed my life. And I wouldn’t be here without it.’ ”

To help support the EVS training program, please contact Louise Brown, executive director of the Shadyside Hospital Foundation, at 412-623-6600 or brownlr@upmc.edu.