Crossing Barriers to Employment

Employees with developmental disabilities play key role at animal hospital

On bright afternoons, light streams through the expansive, floor-to-ceiling windows at Pet Crossing Animal Hospital and Dental Clinic in Bloomington, transforming the veterinary facility’s waiting area into a warm, sun-drenched atrium.

If possible, there’s an element at the animal hospital that makes the place even sunnier, according to co-owner Dr. Steve Barghusen. It’s the employees – including the people employed through Partnership Resources, Inc. (PRI), a program that provides support for people with developmental disabilities.

“We hire people with disabilities for a number of reasons,” Barghusen said. “For one thing, they do a very good job, which means it’s good for business.”

The animal hospital has employed people with disabilities through PRI for a number of years. Employees Jamie Scattergood, Jeff Chelman, Joe Harm and Anne Slover wash floors and windows, do laundry, vacuum and perform general cleaning. They also fit in plenty of time to give hugs and kisses to the four-leggeds.

Funded by the State of Minnesota and Hennepin County, PRI serves over 200 people with disabilities through work, leisure and art programs. The organization annually supports up to 150 individuals at 35 job sites. According to Terri Bauernfeind, one of the program directors, there are currently 18-20 PRI clients waiting to find jobs. She believes the wait will not be a long one.

“The most rewarding part of my job is seeing more and more business managers realize that people with disabilities have a lot to offer a workplace – that they are an asset to a company,” Bauernfeind said. “This realization is leading to more opportunities and options for those with disabilities.”

Scattergood, Chelman, Harm and Slover have all found meaningful work at Pet Crossing. Scattergood, 25, is the most recent hire, having begun work there this past January. She and Slover job share, taking turns at laundry and light cleaning. “I like to help my coworkers,” Scattergood said. “I like seeing the dogs and cats, and I like earning a paycheck!”

Slover, 29, on the other hand, has worked at Pet Crossing for four years. “You name it, I clean it!” she declares proudly. Slover agrees with Scattergood that one of the best things about working is getting paid.

For Chelman, 26, the best part of being employed at Pet Crossing has to do with the animals. He has worked there for the past two years and loves to walk the three office dogs (Annie, Gretta and Collin). With the help of other staff members, Chelman also feeds and brushes the dogs’ teeth. He is usually the first to know if one of the resident dogs or cats is not feeling well.

Harm, 49, has the most work experience of the group. He is in charge of cleaning floors and the lunchroom, and taking out the garbage and recycling. He is also responsible for cutting down the number of sniffles and other contagious diseases that the staff and the clients encounter by keeping the door handles and the phones virus-free.

These four employees all work with an on-site job coach. This is one feature that makes the programs so successful in a business setting. Job coaches, which are supplied at no cost to every employer that hires three to five employees with disabilities, provide on-site training to help employees with decision-making skills and make sure that employer expectations are met.

Perhaps the most important function that a job coach can perform is that of facilitating and maintaining open communication among the supported employees, the company’s staff, customers and vendors. “They help break down barriers that might otherwise exist,” says Barghusen.

It’s the barriers—those preconceived notions that people with disabilities won’t do a good job—that present the most significant challenges in placing individuals for employment. “Company owners or human resource executives who make a business decision to hire individuals with disabilities get the most benefit,” Bauernfeind said.

Barghusen couldn’t agree more. “Jamie, Jeff, Joe and Anne are dependable, loyal workers who help contribute to the bottom line,” he said.

FFI: Partnership Resources, www.partnershipresources.org

Pet Crossing Animal Hospital, www.petcrossing.com