By Melissa Skahan

As the pandemic persisted over this past year so too did critical calls for changing the way we approach a range of local, national, and global priorities. At Northern Light Mercy Hospital, we saw this as a call to action and were heartened to see organizations large and small examine ways they could advance social justice, opportunity, and equity.

Our hospital is a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of Mercy, and our mission is to care for all with special concern for the underserved. We engaged with employees on these critical national discussions in a number of ways, including through group discussions designed to foster an open dialogue about where we are as an organization and where we see opportunities to grow.

As a result of the feedback from these meetings, Mercy Hospital established a new workforce development program called +MPower, which is designed to create career pathways and extend new ladders of opportunity to those who once saw them as out of reach. Through community partnerships with Portland Adult Education’s New Mainer Center, Southern Maine Community College, and others, +MPower provides free access to education, training, job shadowing, apprenticeships, and specialized programs to help participants advance in their position or begin a new career in health care.

The first group of participants recently began their journey in this new program, and a new $400,000 investment from the John T. Gorman (JTG) Foundation will enable us to grow +MPower and open it up to more people. The JTG Foundation is committed to providing opportunities to improve the lives of our most vulnerable neighbors, and their partnership has made it possible to launch and expand this important work in our community.

Workforce collaborations build systems of support that can help close the opportunity gap for New Mainers and historically marginalized members of our communities. While workforce development is by no means the sole answer to existing inequities or disparities, increasing access to training and education helps address employment, income, and a variety of disparities that preclude too many from advancing economic security for themselves and their families.

Additional strategies at all levels are needed to counter decades of injustice and advance equity in educational attainment, employment, and income. By working together, we can help to close the opportunity gap and ensure that we set our community up for success by investing in those that make it so vibrant and strong.

Melissa Skahan is the vice president of mission integration at Northern Light Mercy Hospital in Portland, Maine.