Students with disabilities find new learning opportunities with Baptist

Dr. Lori Rae Holtzman, a pediatrician with Baptist Medical Group-River City Pediatrics, is no ordinary mom.

Dr. Lori Rae Holtzman, a pediatrician with Baptist Medical Group-River City Pediatrics, is no ordinary mom. Mother to four adopted children, including Cody, a son with disabilities, she noticed something about Baptist.

“I came from Cincinnati Children’s, where it’s not unusual to see dozens of employees with special needs in the hallways and working.” Where maybe another would have simply left well enough alone, Dr. Holtzman instead sat down with then CEO of Baptist Women’s Hospital, Anita Vaughn, with an idea. That was three years ago.

Dr. Holtzman proposed Baptist start a Community Based Instruction (CBI) program designed to help students with disabilities develop functional skills and eventual employment. Vaughn loved the idea.

Baptist formed a partnership with Germantown Municipal School District and Houston High School. During the last year, Baptist Women’s Hospital, Germantown Municipal School District, and Baptist’s Human Resources department worked closely to make the program a reality. Houston High School students began their work at Baptist Women’s Hospital in November 2016.

Even though Cody is medically fragile, he expressed his ultimate desire. “He knew I worked at a hospital, and he wanted to work like mommy,” said Dr. Holtzman.

Every Thursday, teacher Cathy Jones and paraprofessionals Keith Rodgers and Kelly Poschel accompany the students to Baptist Women’s, where they all put their learned skills to use. Some students help with light cleaning, others push the hospitality cart or help in the cafeteria. Unlike some CBI programs where students come from home to work, these students fit their Baptist work in during the school day
From the onset, students participated in the regular on-boarding process with modifications made to the material. They were assigned their work and returned to school, where they simulated their Baptist job.

Cathy teaches a functional skills class. “Some kids have excellent verbal skills, other won’t respond to a question. One girl was so shy she wouldn’t make eye contact,” said Cathy. Today, the results are amazing. “They have experienced a tremendous amount of growth,” she added.

“The Baptist staff has been so receptive here, and they treat us like family. It’s not unusual for these kids to get ‘looks’ from people, but I have never seen that happen here. This is an exceptional opportunity for these students,” said Cathy.

Dr. Holtzman hopes to see these types of work programs expand across Baptist and the community. For now, however, she believes in starting slow and small, taking heart at the smiling students seen in Baptist’s hallways.