Leaders of Sinai Health System in Chicago realized that to boost population health in the poor inner-city communities Sinai serves, they needed to step up hiring of local residents, a significant percentage of whom have criminal records.
“One of the best ways to improve people’s health is to hire them,” said John Figiel, Sinai’s director of talent management. “When you have a job and health insurance, you and your family can access healthcare.”
So about a year ago, Sinai partnered with the Safer Foundation, which works with ex-offenders, to establish an employment referral pipeline with a wraparound support system to better prepare returning citizens for workplace success. It’s called the Sinai Pathway Program.
Last year, Sinai hired 224 local residents through the program—both ex-offenders and other disadvantaged people including those with disabilities—and retained 71% of them. Most were hired for janitorial, food-service, or other entry-level positions, though the foundation said it also has placed nurses and other professionals.
“These folks never had that support at home or on the job,” Figiel said. “That’s what makes this so inspiring, to help them succeed, and they are so grateful. I get excited about this.”
Sinai is one of several hospital systems around the country that have launched programs to hire ex-offenders for both licensed and non-professional positions. Others include Johns Hopkins Health System in Baltimore and Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. MetroHealth and University Hospitals in Cleveland also work with community groups to place people with conviction records.
They report that these hires—whose backgrounds are known only to human resources—generally perform as well or better than people without records.
“I love that our hiring managers aren’t aware that some of their best employees are folks with criminal histories,” said AJ Evans, a talent acquisition consultant at Henry Ford.
It’s part of a growing effort by health system leaders around the country to address the socio-economic factors that largely determine people’s health and well-being. As economic anchors in their communities, health systems increasingly have made investments and built partnerships around economic development, employment and other social determinants of health.
Advocates hope that the progress made in hiring ex-offenders will continue after the coronavirus pandemic eases and the economy begins to recover.