Matt came to TOPS with a great work experience that he wanted to continue building on as long as he was in a position making a difference and helping others. Matt shadowed the Nutrition Aide department in Spring 2020 to learn more about the role and decided he would love to work for them. He was supposed to start this summer but with COVID, things were pushed back. Matt joined the Nutrition Aide team this month – he loves shadowing and trying the tasks so far. He will be responsible for delivering meals to patients, taking meal orders, and following specific dietary guidelines if a patient has certain restrictions. Matt is excited to have the opportunity to help patients during their recovery through nutrition!
When you ask 23-year-old Ben Walter how he’s doing, you get a cheerful, “Good, very busy!”
Each day, Ben rounds up dozens of wheelchairs, motorized stretchers and gurneys from all parts of The James – and makes sure they’re clean and ready to roll.
Ben is the one and only general services assistant in the Patient Transportation Department at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. He earned this newly created job title after working hard in the TOPS Program at the Nisonger Center, which offers unique study and employment opportunities for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“Ben takes great pride in his work,” says his supervisor, John Roese, Patient Transportation. “He’s full of energy. He loves to talk with people and connect with others.”
Actually, John is a relationship-builder too ─ in the way he partners with Ben and supervises his team.
“John changes the atmosphere in a positive way ─ with his spirituality, adaptability and empathy. He’s an amazing listener,” says Shelly Martin, assistant director of Patient Transportation. “We knew he would be adept at helping Ben succeed in this new position.”
Shelly and John embrace the core value of inclusiveness as they manage Ben and the rest of the Patient Transportation team.
“We are committed to inclusion and efforts to support everyone,” Shelly says.
Within the Patient Transportation Department, team members of different ages, abilities, genders and cultural backgrounds work toward the same goal: safe, timely transportation of patients.
Diverse team performs vital work
The Patient Transportation Department is vital for the smooth operation of the hospital and for providing a pleasant customer service experience.
“It’s very important work that we do,” Shelly says. “Our team members transport patients throughout the entire health system, everywhere except outpatient facilities and OSU East. We know how to get from points A to B efficiently.”
Meanwhile, John supervises the Patient Transportation storekeepers ─ Ben, plus five others. They collect abandoned wheelchairs and equipment, easily walking 10 miles a day through hospital tunnels, crossovers and parking garages. They make sure everything is sanitized, powered up and functioning properly ─ essential work that could easily be taken for granted.
“Our storekeepers do their part to make sure there are no delays in patient care,” John explains. “Sometimes their work goes unnoticed. You just expect wheelchairs and stretchers to magically appear and be there, but you don’t see the behind-the-scenes people who make it happen.”
Naturally, wheelchairs and gurneys are hot commodities around here. So each morning, Ben assesses the equipment supply in the storage room and helps line up wheelchairs at the entrance for people arriving at The James.
Next, he meticulously checks the floors for left-behind equipment, which will be needed throughout the day for transporting patients to surgeries, X-rays and other procedures.
“To help Ben keep track of what he’s doing, his coaches created a special list on a dry erase card,” explains John. “After he collects equipment from one floor, he checks it off, and then hits the next floor, working his way down.”
“It’s a lot of walking,” Ben says with a laugh.
Being differently abled doesn’t stop people from working in Patient Transportation.
“Everyone deserves a chance. We’ll work a strategy to make people successful ─ through accommodations or resources,” John says. “Ben and I talk throughout the day. I make sure his needs are met, and we work hard to get the job done. We’re glad he’s here.”
Break down barriers ─ why not?
By tackling his job each day, Ben breaks down barriers and brings awareness to others that differently abled people can perform many types of roles.
“Ben shows great courage in just being here,” Shelly says. “At first, people may not understand, but he takes us through the learning process of how we can accept and appreciate people of all intellectual and physical abilities.”
Whenever reasonably possible, Shelly does her best to be inclusive and support her team members dealing with other life issues, too.
“For example, we try to make accommodations for people who have visual challenges due to age. We try to accommodate women after childbirth who face nursing challenges and single parents who need to adjust their schedules to care for children,” Shelly explains. “We even incorporate shoes into our uniform budget so our staff (who walk 7-10 miles a day) can afford shoes.”
When someone has a challenging request or situation, Shelly, John and the rest of the leadership team first ask themselves, “Why not?”
“Let’s figure out how we can do this,” Shelly explains. “And if there’s a good reason we can’t, that’s fine. But before we say no, we always ask, ‘Why not?’”
Being inclusive pays big dividends for everyone.
“When we treat people with respect and fairness, they have that sense of belonging and can be an equal team member,” Shelly says. “They come to work with joy and passion for their work.”
Grateful for the opportunity
As for Ben, he’s thrilled to work in health care. His mother was a physical therapist, and this job helps him proudly follow in her footsteps.
After a long shift of checking floors and gathering up wheelchairs and transportation equipment, Ben feels like he’s making a contribution.
“I feel good because I’m helping people. I help my co-workers because they don’t have to find the gurneys and clean them,” explains Ben.
And by providing wheelchairs, Ben helps our patients, too.
“I make the patients’ days a little easier,” he says. “Patients are dealing with a lot of stress, and sometimes life and death stuff. I know how they feel. And this is how I can help them.”
Quick Facts About Patient Transportation
- We have approximately 70 transport staff members (and we’re training more).
- Our team performs approximately 700 patient transports daily.
- We have approximately 400 wheelchairs (and can always use more).
- It’s not unusual for team members to walk 7-10 miles a day, transporting patients and collecting equipment.
- We’ve tracked down our wheelchairs in parking garages, downtown alleys, at Goodwill and even as far away as West Virginia.
This article is part of a series describing how Ohio State faculty and staff are leading the way by embodying the Buckeye Spirit in everything they do through shared values of empathy, ownership, inclusiveness, determination, innovation and sincerity.
Source: “Patient Transportation Embraces All: An ‘Inclusive’ Look Behind the Scenes.” HealthBeat HUB, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, 10 June 2020, onfirstup.com/ohiostate/ohiostate/contents/22286919.
More than anything, Austin Shirk wanted to be a Buckeye.
From his home in Allen, Texas, he’d cheer for the football team alongside his parents, Dina ’88 and Dave ’92, and he often went to games when visiting Ohio relatives. As he grew up, he dreamed of taking college classes at Ohio State, making new friends and finding a good job.
But his prospects for higher education seemed remote to Austin and his parents. Austin is among millions of people in this country with an intellectual or developmental disability, less than a quarter of whom go on to college after finishing high school, according to Think College, a national nonprofit working to raise that percentage.
As for finding a good job, “We were having a heck of a time getting anyone to give Austin a chance in Texas,” Dina said. Though her son enrolled in independent living and job training programs, they didn’t lead to jobs. Instead, he languished on waiting lists.
If local programs could not help Austin, the Shirks decided, then they would move on. They began searching for an alternative and could hardly believe it when their quest led to their alma mater.
Ohio State had created a program in 2011 called Transition Options in Postsecondary Settings, or TOPS, to provide personalized support to students with intellectual or developmental disabilities. The program is designed for students who want to learn life skills and find a job that matches their abilities and talents — all while experiencing the university’s vibrant academic and social life.
Austin had a chance to be a Buckeye.
He couldn’t fill out the TOPS application fast enough, and the Shirks waited nervously for the call. Then it came: He was in. “It was a big accomplishment, a big step to get into TOPS,” Austin said.
A world of firsts awaited Austin when he arrived in Columbus in 2014. While he was excited to be on campus, it was a big adjustment, and he would be living in his own apartment for the first time. Austin, who loved auditing classes with more “typical” Ohio State students, discovered a special interest he didn’t know of: “I enjoyed earth sciences, especially the lectures, labs and hands-on activities,” he said.
Based on that, his job coaches found him internships with the Nisonger Center Dental Program and a private dental clinic in Columbus, where he assembled instrumentation trays and sterilized equipment.
After completing the TOPS program in 2016, Austin went to work at the Wexner Medical Center where he supports the Central Sterile Supply department. His position pays a fair-market wage with full benefits, including retirement benefits and health insurance. “I love my job,” he said. “It’s worth going through the [challenges that accompany] being in TOPS.”
His manager, Jen Smith, is similarly delighted.
“Austin is so eager to learn new tasks, and he gets along with everyone,” Smith said. “I’ve never seen one human being get along so well with everyone.” It’s not just that Austin is nice; his contributions make the entire team more effective. “He can handle tasks that were taking our clinical staff away from production,” said Smith, who hopes to create another job with TOPS. “We would have two of Austin if we could.”
In helping students find their way as young adults, TOPS changes lives for entire families.
“I am so excited about Austin’s job,” Dina Shirk said. “When we got his diagnosis at age 10, the doctor said, ‘If I were you, I would teach him a few things and forget everything else.’ We never went back to him, and Austin has so exceeded those expectations.”
Source: MacLellan, Erin. “On Top of the World.” The Ohio State University Alumni Association, Ohio State Alumni Magazine, 2017, www.osu.edu/alumni/news/ohio-state-alumni-magazine/issues/march-april-2017/on-top-of-the-world.html.