Job Fair Turnout Exceeds Positions
By CASEY MURPHY
Britta Strickland expected up to 100 applicants to attend the Career Fair on Wednesday at the Watkins-Logan-Garrison Texas State Veterans Home, which is set to open in November.
But job seekers started showing up at 9 a.m. to the event, planned for noon to 8 p.m., she said. By 1 p.m., they already had about 150 applications, she added.
Ms. Strickland is senior vice president of small-house development and operations for Touchstone Communities, a provider of skilled nursing and rehabilitation care that will operate the veterans home on behalf of the Texas Veterans Land Board.
Ms. Strickland said people began showing up at 9 a.m., and by 11 a.m., she couldn't keep them out anymore, so the Career Fair started early. By noon, they passed out all of their 100 applications and had to make more copies.
She said the majority of the 125 positions they need to fill will be elder care assistants, "super-certified CNAs" and nurses, both RNs and LVNs.
A business office manager and receptionist, social worker, environmental specialist (housekeeping and laundry) and food service supervisor also will be needed.
Ms. Strickland planned to start calling applicants back today for interviews, but since there were more than expected, she said they will start calling people back next week.
There will be 10 homes, each housing 10 residents, and homes will be opened two at a time starting in November. She said they will need 15 elder care assistants and five nurses to staff every two homes.
To open the first two homes, she will need to hire 35 people, so she will call back probably five applicants to interview for every position, Ms. Strickland said.
She expects to admit the first residents around Nov. 15, and a dedication ceremony will take place for the new $15 million facility at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 9. Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, members of the Texas Veterans Land Board and family members of the three men the facility is named for -- Medal of Honor recipients Travis Earl Watkins, of Gladewater, and James Marion Logan, of Kilgore, as well as Tuskegee Airman Samuel M. Garrison, of Tyler -- will attend the ceremony.
She said the site will be home to 100 veterans, their spouses or gold star parents, people who have lost a child to war.
Er'Shonda Finley, 21, Tyler, was at the Career Fair to fill out an application, hoping to get a job in laundry or housekeeping. She said she has been out of a job for about a year.
"I came to explore; to see what's going on," she said. "I think it (a career fair) is a real good idea to give people a chance to do something."
Danecia McGee, 20, Tyler, was looking for a job in housekeeping or food service. She said she recently worked in the food service industry and has been looking for work since July. "I need a job," she said.
Ms. McGee said career fairs are important because they give people a chance to go to one location to look for work, instead of wasting gas driving from job to job.
After Ms. Finley and Ms. McGee filled out applications, they took a tour, along with other applicants, of a home on the 20-acre property. Ms. Strickland gave the tour, showing them the differences in the veterans homes from a normal nursing home.
Out of the 14 people on Ms. Strickland's tour Wednesday afternoon, about half of the applicants had worked for a nursing home.
"It's not all about the nurses," she said. "It's about the residents and their relationships with their bedside caregivers."
She said nursing homes are built like hospitals so residents usually want to go home. But the veterans home will be built more like homes, with private beds and restrooms, a home-like kitchen and den, a fenced-in yard and other unique amenities.
Ms. Strickland said residents will not be prevented from being in the kitchen, and nothing is off limits because it is their home. Residents also can participate in meal preparation; cooking will sometimes be done outside for picnics and they hope
to start a garden behind each home, she said.
Pets are welcome to visit, and if a resident wants to have a pet move in, the decision will be made by all the residents in that home.
"We're trying to eliminate as many institutional practices as possible," she told the group. "We don't want institutional-type habits to creep back in here. We want to keep these homes."
Each of the 10 homes will be 9,500 square feet and will sit on property donated by and located just north of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler. The center will be the first in the nation to use the small house concept to care for veterans, she said.
The home is funded by a $12 million grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, with the remaining 35 percent paid for by the Texas Veterans Land Board. For more in
formation, call 210-828-5686 or visit www.tylervethome.com