ChristianaCare Encourages Caregivers to Embrace Their Diverse Abilities

Neil Jasani, M.D.

At ChristianaCare, a strength of its workforce is in its differences, its diverse abilities.

“Appreciating each individual’s differences helps us embrace diversity and show respect to everyone,” said Chief People Officer Neil Jasani, M.D., MBA, FACEP.

“Those differences may involve race, gender, generation, ethnicity or religion. They also may involve physical or neurological challenges, or even veteran or active military status.”

During Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in March, ChristianaCare is encouraging its caregivers to share their differences and the unique value each brings to the organization.

Demographically, ChristianaCare looks like the community it serves in almost every category. However, while one in three Delawareans — about 33% — has a disability or diverse ability, only 2% of ChristianaCare caregivers currently self-report as disabled or diversely abled.

“We want everyone to know that ChristianaCare is a disability-friendly and veteran-friendly employer,” said Inclusion and Diversity Manager Natalie Torres.

“Our differences are powerful assets because they reflect the diverse nature of our caregivers, our patients and the communities we serve.”

Planning to grow

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion launched a systemwide strategic plan with a priority around enhancing the caregiver experience. More specifically, the plan supports an environment in which our caregivers can feel safe self-identifying as diversely abled. The plan also encourages department leaders to actively seek opportunities to hire individuals with diverse backgrounds.

In 2019, ChristianaCare employees (seated) Anthony Calandra, Tina Lake and Rebecca Butler met with (standing) Toni Nash of the Friends of the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute and Pat Swanson, BSN, RN, program manager of Translational Research and a founder of the DiverseABILITIES ERG.

“We need to challenge ourselves to ensure that we are inclusive and that we continue to grow,” Dr. Jasani said.

The goal, he said, is to retain exceptional talent and put the caregiver before the disability, not the other way around.

“As we serve together, this is important work for all of us at ChristianaCare,” Dr. Jasani said.

Community partnerships support talent pipeline

ChristianaCare has long been a leader in serving a diverse community with a workforce of diverse caregivers. The nationally recognized workforce development partnership program Project SEARCH helps young adults with cognitive disabilities gain career skills.

ChristianaCare’s Project SEARCH is a nationally recognized workforce development partnership program that helps young adults with cognitive disabilities gain career skills. Here, a 2018 graduate of Project SEARCH celebrates his achievements.

The program is credited with helping participants transition from school to a productive work life. At the same time, it helps build ChristianaCare’s talent pipeline through internships — and in some cases paid positions — in areas such as Pharmacy, Family & Community Medicine and the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute.

Rebecca Butler was a Project SEARCH intern and joined the Graham Cancer Center in 2018 as a volunteer referred by the Delaware Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. She now has a paying job in Radiation Oncology and Translational Cancer Research that includes scanning and uploading patient consent forms.

“I like working with computers, shredding and scanning papers, but I like scanning the best,” Butler said. “I tell my friends this a good place. I always want my job to be here at the Graham Cancer Center.”

Community partners such as the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Veterans Administration and the Wounded Warriors Project also play an important role in helping ChristianaCare ensure appropriate accommodations for people with differing abilities.

Exemplifying love and excellence

In 2019, Pat Swanson, BSN, RN, program manager for Translational Cancer Research, helped start the DiverseABILITIES employee resource group (ERG) for caregivers who have differing neurological or physical abilities or wish to support caregivers who do.

ERGs offer a meaningful way for caregivers to be part of a group that represents their identities or that aligns with their personal interests and beliefs.

Swanson hopes the growing membership of DiverseABILITIES reflects caregivers’ increasing acceptance of those who are different, as well as a willingness for those who have a differing ability to self-report and indicate if there is a need for reasonable job accommodations.

“We need to value what all of our caregivers bring to their work, and self-reporting is an important part of the process,” said Swanson, whose adult son, Andrew, has severe autism.

Swanson said that her son’s job with the Pharmacy over the last nine years has changed the trajectory of his life. In return, his supervisors acknowledge that his efficiency and the unique qualities he brings to his role enhance patient and family experiences — and the experiences of his fellow caregivers.

“The value of changing someone’s life is immeasurable,” Swanson said.

Learn more about ChristianaCare’s commitment to Diversity and Inclusion.