In the 608: SSM Health’s ‘Ability Forward’ program giving MMSD students a chance to shine

MADISON, Wis. – SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital has a unique partnership with the Madison Metropolitan School District called “Ability Forward.” It places students with disabilities into internship programs within the hospitals.

One of those success stories is Teng Yang. He started as an intern in SSM Health’s lab department, and was so successful; he is now a permanent employee at the lab.

Lab support supervisor Kat Garetson says it is a huge benefit to St. Mary’s and hopes other organizations begin similar programs.

“This is a fundamental part of our team that you don’t often times have that front and center,” explained Garetson. “So that really put Teng center stage when we didn’t have somebody to put all the supplies away, and to act as that resource, and it’s like oh my gosh he is so valuable.”

Teng works a morning shift and does a lot the work behind the scenes, such as restocking whatever lab materials need replenishing.

“My favorite thing is putting stuff away,” said Teng. “If I’m not here, they can’t do the job that I’m doing. So some of the time they need me here I’m just happy to have the job that I like to do.”

The department has enjoyed his presence so much; they are actively looking at ways to expand his role while adding a new intern, as well as transitioning him into more independent work without a daily job coach.

Officials say SSM Health’s environmental services team also participates in “Ability Forward” and has had some similar success with interns turning into permanent members of the team.