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Lexington Medical Center employees
Lexington Medical Center currently employs 30 high schoolers to deliver room service trays.

The Kids Are Alright Helpers

Hospital taps teen labor pool for room service delivery help.

Lexington Medical Center in West Columbia, SC, had a familiar problem a while back. “Our labor pool was diminished due to the economy, making it more difficult to devote employees to tasks like delivering our room service trays,” says Steve Howell, director of nutrition services.

It was a puzzler until one evening Howell noticed high school age workers in a local restaurant and had an idea. He went to his HR department and worked out how to lower the minimum age for new hires in his department to 16. Then, he advertised at local high schools. He got 50 applications in the first week, of which eight were hired. That number has now risen to 30.

The jobs are attractive to teens because the pay is higher than at a typical commercial restaurant that uses young workers.

“What we had to be careful of is that these kids, while they were enthusiastic, had little or no work experience. So, unlike with adults, there was less to go on,” Howell offers. He says one of the primary determining factors is simply “personality,” since meal delivery requires interaction with patients.

The youngsters work four-hour shifts in the evenings and on weekends. They get formal training on how to handle their jobs, then are mentored by veteran staffers, Howell says. “They get a good experience in a professional workplace and the community gets solid employment for some of its youngsters.”

The usually full 414-bed facility has had a room service style patient meal system for years. It operates from seven in the morning to seven at night with a 30 minute delivery guarantee, so the pressure to get the meals to the floors is intense, and the reinforcements to help relieve it more than welcome.

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