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In SEARCH of Caregivers

Published July 2023 | In Summer 2023

There’s one thing that’s true of these three Monument Health caregivers and graduates of Project SEARCH — they each take their roles very seriously. JP, Berkley and Cody all have a deep understanding that the time they spend as caregivers is making a difference. Every day.

In SEARCH of Caregivers Media

When you walk into Monument Health Rapid City Hospital, you might find yourself receiving one of the friendliest greetings you’ve ever experienced. If that’s happened to you, then you’ve probably met Jason Plooster, better known as JP to his friends — and everyone is his friend. Because of his warmth, friendliness and positive energy, it’s no surprise that JP is a star at welcoming people. What may be surprising is that it isn't even his job. He’s an Environmental Services Technician, and while he’s great at his role, he’s also great at making people feel welcome. He loves coming to work. “I just get to high five people. It’s awesome,” he said enthusiastically.

Project SEARCH

JP, like many caregivers at Monument Health, is finding meaningful employment through a partnership with Project SEARCH. The program’s mission is to train people with developmental disabilities to have fulfilling employment through internships and through developing the skills necessary to join and thrive in the workforce.

Project SEARCH is a national organization that connects its graduates with several employers in the area. Monument Health is the largest employer of Project SEARCH graduates in western South Dakota. The program works with young people on practical job skills but also focuses on soft skills like communication, professionalism and ways to connect with people.

The program is a success. It’s great for the Project SEARCH graduates who find jobs for which they’re an excellent fit, it’s great for Monument Health because they find incredible caregivers and it’s great for patients and community members because they have the opportunity to interact with caregivers like JP.

Patients who interact with JP always walk away with a smile, but he also lends his signature sunshine to doctors, nurses and senior leadership — anyone who encounters him receives authentic, friendly encouragement. “I like working here,” JP said, directly but enthusiastically. “It’s awesome.”

Warm welcomes

JP isn’t the only Project SEARCH graduate who makes sure patients feel welcome. As a Guest Services Specialist, Berkley Kolkman makes it a priority to make patients, visitors and caregivers feel as comfortable as possible when they come to Rapid City Hospital. In many ways, Guest Services caregivers act as ambassadors to Rapid City Hospital, providing guidance, direction, information and comfort to patients and visitors alike. Berkley, a kind and gentle individual, is a perfect fit for this role and enjoys helping patients feel more at ease. “It can be hard coming to the hospital,” she said. “We give out things like neck pillows and activity books — stuff like that.” Berkley loves spending time with patients and said that she’s had the privilege of meeting some of the funniest and kindest people while on duty. She also enjoys being part of a team, and her fellow caregivers bring joy to her job as well. “I like my co-workers a lot,” she said. “All of them are really nice and supportive.”

Getting where you’re going

Moving around a hospital isn’t always easy, especially as some patients may need wheelchair assistance. Knowing where to go is only part of the challenge — when a patient needs to get from one area to another, for treatment or services, they’ll meet a Patient Transporter like Cody Brown.

Cody’s role is to ensure patients get where they need to be, when they need to be there. And it’s a duty that Cody takes seriously. “Safety is my goal,” he said matter-of-factly. He knows what is important, and he enjoys what he does, because every day brings a new experience. He can always count on two things remaining constant in his role: getting to meet kind people every day, and always hitting his step goal. “I get 15,000 steps most days,” he said with a smile spreading across his face.

The SEARCH is never over

These three caregivers are excellent representatives of Project SEARCH and show just how well the program’s graduates do as Monument Health caregivers. In fact, you’ll find graduates making a difference in Monument Health facilities across the region. And with each Project SEARCH class, new, unique and valuable skills and perspectives are sure to be rought to the Monument Health team of caregivers.

“Our Project SEARCH graduates are woven into the fabric of Monument Health. Each caregiver brings their passion, personality and whole heart to work each day,” said John Pierce, Rapid City Market President. “I truly love walking the halls of Rapid City Hospital and seeing our caregivers serving others.”

Often, you’ll see John sharing a fist bump or smile with JP.

In fact, JP has built a rapport with John. The two have nicknames for each other: JP1 and JP2.

“JP1 has an equal love and respect for all those he works with,” said John. “You’ll see him treat physicians and executives with the same friendly demeanor as anyone else. Because JP sees us as all his friends. It's something we can all take away and learn from JP.”

Written by Stephen Simpson

Photos by Bob Slocum