NORWAY — Across industries and regions, employee well-being became a major concern for businesses burdened with operating through the pandemic.

Last Friday Stephens Memorial Hospital President Andrea Patstone, Maine School Administrative District 17 Heather Manchester and Norway Savings Bank President Dan Walsh announced a new collaboration to address the challenges their employees faced as the public health emergency has given way to supply shortages and inflation.

They are contracting with Goodwill Industries of Northern New England for the services of an employee life navigator, a person dedicated to identifying resources and providing support to workers dealing with challenges like finding childcare and housing or financial hardships during a time when inflation has made it difficult for some to pay for heating or car maintenance.

Norway Savings Bank, SAD 17 and Stephens Memorial Hospital recently announced an innovative shared workforce program, an employee life nagivator contracted through Goodwill Industries to support employees. Pictured from left, Norway Savings Bank President Dan Walsh, Goodwill Industries Vice President of Client Services Kelly Osborn, Maine Sen. Rick Bennett, SMH President Andrea Patstone and SAD 17 Superintendent Heather Manchester. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

Becca O’Leary, a Goodwill Industries employee and graduate of Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, is now on the job and committed to working with employees of the three organizations who can use a helping hand navigating life.

The initiative took shape after Norway resident James McBride called on Patstone to find out how a financial gift might best benefit the hospital in a continuous way. At the top of her mind was the challenge of how to invest in SMH’s staff. The two agreed his donation would fund a study utilizing a labor economist and consultant to advise on the most effective ways to support overworked employees as pandemic struggles waned and other issues arose.

Patstone invited other employers in the area to collaborate with SMH to analyze the study and figure out how their workforce challenges differed from each other and aligned. SAD 17 and Norway Savings jumped onboard and the groups’ eventual solution was to share a human resource who would provide the same service across the boards – an Employee Life Navigator.


“We constructed a custom region of the Norway area,” Patstone said. “We draw employees from Lewiston-Auburn, Rumford, Raymond, even New Hampshire and from Stowe, Vermont. Our workforce around Norway has declined by four percent over the past years.”

The labor economist assigned socio-economic demographics to the population in the area, which helped project what the workforce will look like going forward and compare it to position needs. With their future staffing challenges defined, the group started strategizing on how to meet them in the midst of increasing retirements. The solution would be to focus on retaining employees instead of hiring and training through cycles of turnover.

“At SMH alone, we have an average annual turnover rate of about 13%,” Patstone said. “But in the first year, it is 25%. For whatever reason, one in four people that we hire can’t stay with us for more than a year.”

Finding the school district and bank experience similar rates, the stakeholders determined to partner with Goodwill and adapt some of its services to their needs.

“We need for our employees to be present,” Walsh explained. “They are the difference-makers in our business. We’re talking customers’ finances. We need to be engaged and on bring our best self to work every day. And we’re talking about healthcare (business) and educating our future citizens and leaders. There is nothing more important than that.”

Manchester remarked that ahead of this academic year, SAD 17 hired 60 new teachers, while many support positions like custodians, ed techs and bus drivers remain open.


“For us, it’s really important to keep the employees we have,” she said. “Many have left the profession, burned out during the pandemic. The employee life navigator will be very important for us to help retain the employees we have. There are fewer college students entering the education field.

The other piece, we want people to ask for help if they need it. Recently, the house one of our teachers was renting sold. It’s hard to find housing. We can send this person to our ELN Becca, who can help him find a new place to rent.”

Goodwill’s Senior Vice President Kelly Osborn explained that providing employee life services is not new to them, but the innovation is applying the concept to assist business organizations. It started an internal program about five years ago and took it outward in the community of Rutland, Vermont.

“At Goodwill, turnover among employees who had contacts with our ELN has been 50% lower than those who have not,” Osborn said. “In Rutland, the local hospital signed on, as well as Casella, and the Vermont Country Store.

“We know this will work here. It’s not just about an entry level person who starts their job and has few resources. It’s also a manager, who has lost a family member. The ELN will be there for support, as a coach, a resource and a case manager.”

O’Leary joined Goodwill during the height of the pandemic in May of 2020 as a life navigator within its opioid national grant, helping people affected by substance use disorder with job placement, training and maintaining employment.


“That grant was for two years and winding down,” O’Leary said. “And I really wanted to stay with Goodwill. It’s a very supportive organization to work for. My director knew I am from Oxford Hills and suggested it might be a good fit. And it is. I got to move back to the community and work with my community.”

O’Leary is started acclimating herself to the needs and people of SMH, SAD 17 and Norway Savings.

“I am getting to know everyone and bringing awareness about the services we can offer,” she said.




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