Paul Tuenge spent years in dead-end jobs making minimum wage with little potential for growth.
When his job as a courtesy clerk ended due to the store closing, Paul, 30, told Karen Lyman, Supported Employment Program Manager at Bethesda, that he wanted a job that had career potential.
“It would have been easy to find another courtesy clerk position for Paul because he did that kind of work for so long, but that would not have served Paul,” Karen said. “It would have been a fast placement, but it wouldn’t be the right placement because it did not meet Paul’s needs.”
At the same time, Riikka Salonen, program manager of diversity talent acquisition at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), was developing a new initiative for the academic health center. In 2015, OHSU established a Community Advisory Council for Recruitment and Retention of People with Disabilities to increase the representation of people with disabilities in OHSU’s workforce. The OHSU Job Carving Program was the first project of this advisory group.
Karen is part of the 60-member advisory council, which includes OHSU staff, as well as job developers, job coaches and representatives from local employment providers, and disability advocacy organizations. She saw an opportunity to help develop jobs for people like Paul, who experience intellectual and developmental disabilities and have a desire to advance in a career.
“There are so many opportunities here at OHSU to meet the needs of people like Paul, and provide a good job with fair wages,” she said.
Paul works 16 hours per week as a Support Services Aide in the OHSU Environmental Services department. He is the public face of one of the hospital’s busiest buildings, Kohler Pavilion, located near the top platform of the Portland Aerial Tram. He keeps the lobby of the pavilion clean, arranges furniture, and also greets people and assists them with directions.
“All those years, I wondered if I would go anywhere,” Paul said. “Now I work at a hospital with good pay.”
Paul’s supervisor Damascus Hopes said Paul has picked up his job duties quickly. He believes Paul has the potential to advance into other positions at OHSU.
“He’s here on time and wants to work. In my world that goes a long way,” Damascus said. “He’s willing to work and is flexible to learn new things.”
Riikka Salonen said leadership support, as well as support from supervisors like Damascus, has been important for the success of the program.
“We created this program from scratch so it has been essential having the hiring managers as allies,” she said.
Paul experiences short-term memory loss. His job coach, Alex Staller, has created checklists to help Paul with his duties. OHSU provided most of the materials needed, and Alex took those training materials and adapted them for Paul’s support needs. He said Paul’s friendly, outgoing nature makes him a valued employee.
“There is an elderly veteran who comes in frequently for appointments, and he now seeks Paul out to chat with him,” Alex said. “He shows that type of friendliness to everyone.”
OHSU hired six Support Services Aides as part of the initial phase of the program in 2016. The plan is to promote many of those employees into full-time positions and fill the existing Support Services Aides positions with new hires who experience a disability.
Joe Ness, Vice President of Professional Services at OHSU, has been one of the champions of the job-carving program at the leadership level. He said the program benefits not just the individuals hired, but also the entire staff.
“It is rewarding to see new employees in a productive job,” he said. “It has transformed the whole team, not just the individual.”
As for Paul, he is happy to have a job that matches his potential, offers room for advancement and provides a wage that helps him support his family. Paul has a 1-year-old son, and he said he is saving his wages to take his son to Minnesota to visit family.
“I appreciate that OHSU invested in me, and I like to give back what they invested in me by working hard and doing my best,” Paul said.
Paul lives in Beaverton and commutes daily via the MAX Light Rail and the OHSU Tram. He hopes to eventually work more hours, and take on additional duties.
“I have always wanted to be successful,” Paul said. “Now I work in a friendly environment, with people, in a clean environment that I like. I have the opportunity to move up. That’s what I wanted and now I have it.”
Kari Samuelson was the Vocational Rehabilitation counselor for Paul. Sharon Gaskin with Inclusion, Inc. is his personal agent. Karen Lyman provided job developing and Alex Staller is his job coach.
You can also view a photo slideshow of Paul at OHSU.