Sanford Health makes meaningful work accessible for all

North Dakota honors health system’s accommodations for employees with disabilities

A Sanford Health employee in a wheelchair is surprised with a giant scholarship check from colleagues in the clinic.

The Sanford Health human resources department in Bismarck, North Dakota, makes a strong effort to support and inspire people with disabilities by working with them to achieve employment goals.

Those efforts were recently recognized with a North Dakota State Vocational Rehabilitation Employer of the Year Award from the North Dakota Department of Human Services.

“This means a great deal to Sanford Health,” said D.J. Campbell, executive director of human resources for the Bismarck region of Sanford Health. “Being able to find employment for disabled individuals not only has a big impact on the community, but it also helps us with our workforce shortages that we’re currently experiencing.”

ADA anniversary

The Americans with Disabilities Act is celebrating its 32nd birthday in the summer of 2022. Enacted in 1990, the ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

Find your next job: Careers at Sanford Health

Through its spirited support of the principles established by the ADA, Sanford Health in Bismarck has been able to deliver opportunities to people like Alissa Patterson, a patient access representative at Sanford Children’s in Bismarck.

Patterson, recently awarded a Sanford Health Equity in Education Scholarship, is a 2019 graduate of Northern State University who is pursuing a master’s degree in social work. When she was 12, she was diagnosed with a rare disorder that required her to use a wheelchair by the time she was 18.

“Everyone is so kind here,” Patterson said. “You don’t often go somewhere and feel welcome like you do here. I feel like I can do everything that an able-bodied person can do.”

Hiring and supporting employees

Sanford Health was selected from eight nominees for the award. Bismarck VR office team members who nominated Sanford Health cited the hospital’s willingness to make workplace accommodations that allowed several individuals with disabilities to become and remain employed in non-entry-level positions.

“I think it really comes down to looking beyond what we traditionally see as candidates for positions and identifying how we can make things work and accommodate individuals with disabilities so that they can find meaningful and purposeful employment,” Campbell said. “I think it’s a state of mind you have to create through a strong culture within the organization.”

Patterson is on a board involving Sanford’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Bismarck. As such she would like to continue to be part of a culture that recognizes situations where changes to workspaces can help expand lists of candidates for jobs.

“I can do everything I need to do for my job,” she said. “For example, when they were building the new NICU here in Bismarck, they brought me up and asked me what doors I would need buttons on to open that I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. It’s unfortunate that we need them but I’m very glad they included me so that I could continue to do my job.”

Workplace access for all

It is part of a collaborative effort, Campbell said, to bring about necessary equipment alterations. In this case, access is everything.

“It’s very rewarding,” Campbell said. “Not only do we get the recognition, but we’re also known in the community as the place where people can know we’ll make the accommodations and find ways to get people meaningful employment.”

Bringing in young future leaders like Patterson can serve as an illustration of the wisdom of this hiring approach. As she continues to her pursuit of a career in social work, her intent is to provide others an example of why what is happening in Bismarck is in everyone’s best interest.

“I would like to show people that your abilities are bigger than your disabilities,” Patterson said. “You can do a lot of good things in a lot of places.”

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Posted In Awards & Recognition, Bismarck, Here for all. Here for good., Inclusion at Sanford, People & Culture, Workplace Health