The Dignity of Work in Rural Pennsylvania

The Brockway Center for Arts and Technology (BCAT) is only five years old, but it has helped over 100 unemployed and underemployed Pennsylvanians find fulfilling and family-sustaining healthcare careers. Funded by private donations and public grants, BCAT operates two programs training certified Medical Assistants and Pharmacy Technicians.

Director Debbie Heigel is committed to seeing each of the students succeed. She says, “When someone enters the BCAT program they become part of a family.” BCAT provides both career training and more comprehensive support to help people succeed. As Debbie explains, this can mean extra tutoring for tests or helping individuals improve soft skills critical for long-term employment.

BCAT has achieved astounding success. With a near 90 percent placement rate, hospitals and doctor’s offices regularly call them seeking graduates for open positions. Debbie notes their classes are always full; 10 to 15 applicants are currently on the waiting list. She sees no end to the large need for entry-level medical professionals in seven counties in north central Pennsylvania.

BCAT’s success in combating poverty emphasizes the dignity of work as the pathway to permanent prosperity, recognizing that people want to contribute to their communities and do meaningful work.

The BCAT philosophy reflects the latest efforts in Pennsylvania to connect healthy adults on Medicaid and food stamps with employment. HB 2138 seeks to implement a work requirement for healthy adults on Medicaid while HB 1659 limits waiving similar work requirement for healthy adults utilizing food stamps.

Diane Thomas is one example of BCAT’s successful model. Diane held many jobs over the years, but not a career. “I’ve done everything from make pizzas to wipe behinds. I determined that I was going to be better.” After seeing a Facebook ad for BCAT, Diana called to apply. A spot in the medical assistant program unexpectedly opened and she started class the next day.

About two years later, Diane is a fully certified medical assistant with steady hours, a true calling, and pay exceeding the median income for Clearfield County. It’s a big step from her previous home health aide job, where she made a dollar above the minimum wage with inconsistent hours and frequent travel.

While the money is helpful, Diane takes greater pride in the trust she’s built at the Penn Highlands Dubois Physician Network office in Clearfield. “I’ve gotten to the point where I am trusted, knowledgeable and they give me the opportunity of hey we need help here can you do this?” The staff relies upon Diane for everything from scheduling surgeries and testing to handling referrals and insurance authorizations. She even helps patients to their rooms and checks their vitals when a nurse isn’t available.

When asked about the idea of encouraging work in Medicaid and food stamps, she says, “If you want a job they are out there. There is nothing below you. With determination, the sky is the limit.”

From healthcare to construction to skilled manufacturing, the need for workers across Pennsylvania is great. Reorienting our assistance programs to promote and reward work is critical to helping more people transition from no employment or under employment to a rewarding career.

Editor’s Note: Diane’s contributions are her own views and do not in any way reflect the views of Penn Highlands.