UVM Health Network works with staffing agency to help

The entrance to Central Vermont Medical Center. VTDigger file photo

As staffing problems persist, the University of Vermont Health Network has inked a deal with a staffing agency that helps place workers facing systemic barriers.

Working Fields, a staffing agency based out of South Burlington, helps people in recovery, those convicted of felonies and other disadvantaged job-seekers the opportunity to return to the workforce while providing them with peer support.

The contract relates to the health network’s environmental services team, which involves highly skilled positions overseeing infection control and the cleaning of medical equipment, patient rooms and other areas within health care facilities.

It’s being piloted with 15 positions at Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin, the health network said. There are currently 35 such openings across the health network’s affiliates. 

Daryn Forgeron, the marketing director at Working Fields, said the company was founded in 2017 “in response to our founder’s lived experience with recovery and incarceration where he really saw how essential employment is to personal wellbeing and how much it can be a systemic barrier to health and to a fulfilling life.”

Even when a client secures a job, they can face hurdles such as transportation or child care, so the agency tries to address those gaps and provide clients a helping hand to get back on track, Forgeron said.

At a time when Vermont is facing serious spikes in drug and alcohol abuse especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, Working Fields’ mission aligns with what health systems aim to do, said Robert Patterson, vice president of human resources and clinical operations at Central Vermont Medical Center.

“Our primary purpose is taking care of patients but we also help the community,” he said. “This contract by itself will not really change how we’re going to staff our hospitals but it can contribute. … And it will help really make a difference in people’s lives.”

Signed on June 29, the temporary staffing agreement is between Working Fields and the UVM Medical Center “on behalf of itself and its affiliates,” hospital spokesperson Annie Mackin said. Slated as a pilot project, the health network will pay Working Fields per temporary employee with the hope that they can transition to permanent positions.

“We’re just finalizing a few things right now but we’re very excited to try it. I think it will help us from a labor perspective as well,” Patterson said.

Working Fields will provide a candidate to interview for such a position and if hired, will cover expenses such as their payroll, insurance and liability, while providing them with peer support to help them succeed. After six months, if it’s a good fit, the person could transition to a permanent position at the hospital.

Forgeron said Working Fields has already recommended a candidate for an environmental technician role who was once a patient at CVMC and feels the position would be “very fulfilling.”

The health network sees possibilities of expanding the program into other areas that also have shortages such as transportation, nutrition services and couriers, according to Mackin. 

The model could be “one of the rare win-wins that happen where we’re able to support our community and folks who are in recovery to find gainful employment. At the same time, it really helps the employer as well,” Patterson said.

Founded on the belief that individuals who have made mistakes but have accepted responsibility and entered recovery deserve a second chance, Working Fields has several established partnerships with employers across Vermont and New Hampshire including Rhino Foods, Darn Tough, Lake Champlain Chocolates and American Meadows, and are excited about the new contract, according to Forgeron.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the expenses covered by Working Fields.

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