Sapana Adhikari began working in the environmental services department of Allegheny Health Network Jefferson in summer 2021. Her leadership skills and positive attitude earned her a promotion to team leader, but she still struggled with an essential aspect of her job.

“Sometimes patients ask us something, and we are not understanding,” Adhikari explained. “That is not a good thing for us.”  

Like many on her team, Adhikari is originally from Nepal. Married with a teenage son, she came to the United States in 2015 as a refugee. Communicating in English is crucial to success in the workplace, but learning the language is an ongoing process. Each new environment requires a new set of phrases and vocabulary. 

Fortunately for Adhikari and her team, AHN Jefferson recognizes the importance of investing in their employees. Her then-supervisor, William Dilla, former director of environmental services for AHN Jefferson, reached out to Literacy Pittsburgh for help.

Nicole Mannino Johnson, special projects manager for Literacy Pittsburgh (center), helps AHN Jefferson employees boost their English skills through customized Employee Training Services. Sapana Adhikari is pictured on the left. (Photo courtesy of Ox Productions)

“I met with Bill to discuss the challenges his team was facing,” said Nicole Johnson, special projects manager at Literacy Pittsburgh. “I shadowed employees to understand the nature of their job responsibilities and the communication expected.” 

With that information in hand, Johnson designed a customized 15-hour employee training program to build the English language skills of Adhikari and her co-workers. 

“At AHN Jefferson, we focus on conversation skills or small talk,” said Johnson. “Small talk is a huge part of how employees can be successful with patient satisfaction and being seen as a team player.”

Classes typically are structured to take place twice a week for 90 minutes over the course of about five weeks. Instruction takes place on-site, and employees are paid for their class time. Literacy Pittsburgh communicates with the employer throughout the process, providing weekly attendance reports and a recap of the language learned in class, allowing supervisors to practice with employees. Companies receive a report at the end, outlining qualitative and quantitative results and recommendations for next steps.

“It has provided a lot of value,” said Dilla. “We have seen a significant increase in our core behavior surveys, which are based on engagement. We have also seen a shift in retention where employee turnover has really decreased. And, we’ve seen patient satisfaction scores increase.”

Adhikari also appreciates the opportunity to learn. 

“I want to personally thank my managers and my English teachers,” she said. “Otherwise, we have to go somewhere to take English class. That takes our money or our time. But our company gives us a very good thing. I learned a lot of things.”

Allegheny Health Network is among a growing number of local companies that recognize that investing in their employees pays off through retention, customer satisfaction and a stronger team. Literacy Pittsburgh has also provided Employee Training Services to UPMC, Rivers Casino and Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center (Cotraic), among others. The organization has often been invited back to provide additional learning opportunities. 

A fee-based program, Employee Training Services at Literacy Pittsburgh can address a variety of employer needs. In addition to workplace English, classes include math brush-up, business writing and computer skills. 

Developing patient rapport is a key part of patient satisfaction. Here, an AHN employee named Tara (right) told Literacy Pittsburgh she has gained confidence through her Employee Training Services classes. (Photo courtesy of Ox Productions)

Another offering, cross-cultural communication, gives supervisors the tools to communicate more effectively and create a welcoming environment. In this series of three 90-minute workshops, supervisors learn about immigration in our region, explore cultural differences that may exist in the workplace and develop strategies to build more effective communication.

Better communication boosts employee satisfaction, positively impacts retention and ensures customer satisfaction.

“Now we satisfy our patient if they ask us anything because we understand now what they want,” said Adhikari. “That’s why they are happy. That’s our goal. We need our patients happy here.”

Learn more about Literacy Pittsburgh’s Employee Training Services  at

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