Chris Collins
The Baker City Herald

Karee Severns received the satisfaction that comes with helping others in her work at the Chaves Consulting call center where for two years she answered customer questions about various aspects of the Oregon Health Plan for the Oregon Health Authority.

She was among the 54 workers laid off in November when the state cancelled its OHP contract with Chaves Consulting.

Severns, 29, has been unemployed since then.

Now, the state is offering jobs much like the one Severns lost, to residents of Baker, Union and Wallowa counties.

The new positions were created as a way to bring jobs to rural Oregon, said Jennifer Grentz, DHS public affairs specialist.

Severns said she was happy to see the move.

“I was wondering if they were going to bring anything out this way,” she said.

She learned about the job opportunities from a post on a Facebook “friends and family” group the Chaveses have maintained for their former workers.

Eight to 10 eligibility worker jobs will be filled in Baker City, said Rhonda Culley, Self-Sufficiency Programs manager for Baker, Union and Wallowa counties.

Culley was on hand Wednesday at the Baker City office of WorkSource Oregon to speak with people interested in the jobs.

“What a great opportunity this is for our community,” Culley said. “To have this number of positions available in Baker County — permanent positions.”

Enterprise will be hiring 15 to 18 people to work as eligibility workers and up to 20 will be added later in La Grande, Culley said.

The new jobs also include an office specialist support worker for the Baker City office. A manager for what is being called the “Virtual Eligibility Center” will work out of the La Grande DHS office.

During their visit to the DHS Meet and Greet session for prospective employees at the WorkSource Oregon office Wednesday, Severns and others received help from business employment specialists on how to make their applications stand out.

They also learned how to improve their resumes, which aren’t needed for the eligibility worker jobs, but might be required for others if they’re not hired at the call center.

Severns said she has provided customer service since she was 15 years old and is computer savvy, but she thinks she might not have been getting her message out to employers in the best way in order to gain employment.

“How you word that definitely can make the difference,” Severns said she learned from the advice of the WorkSource business employment specialists.

Angela Nixon, 30, has waited tables for the past 12 years in Baker City and was excited to learn about the state job opportunities offered at DHS.

“I’m ready for something new and I’m extremely excited about these positions that opened up for people. We needed it,” Nixon said while working on her application and resume at the WorkSource office Wednesday.

Nixon said she is eager to work an 8-to-5 job that provides benefits and a more stable lifestyle. She has three young daughters who currently live with their father, but she says being a good role model for them has motivated her to seek one of the state jobs being offered.

The wages and health insurance, paid vacation, sick leave and personal leave also make the jobs appealing.

“(The benefits) are something I’ve never had serving,” she said. “It’s rough to even get sick time off if you need it.”

The eligibility worker jobs pay from $2,647 to $3,761 per month.

“I can’t imagine making $2,000 to $3,000 per month waiting tables,” she said.

But Nixon said she didn’t understand that the skills she learned as a server could be used to qualify for other jobs including that of an eligibility worker.

“I thought that since I was a server, I would always be a server,” she said.

But through employment counseling she came to see that waiting tables requires the ability to multi task, solve problems and manage her time wisely.

“Places are looking for people who can do that,” she said.

See more in the March 26, 2018 issue of the Baker City Herald.