Pena4 Provides Mentoring and Meaningful Employment for Neurodiverse Workforce in Medical Coding: Part 2

In the summer of 2021, Pena4 published an article outlining their partnership with Rockland Jewish Family Service to provide medical coding testing for neurodiverse students within their community. 

The project was a multi-agency collaboration between Rockland Jewish Family Service, Jawonio Inc., the state of New York's Vocational Rehabilitation Services, Westchester Medical Center, Pena4, and many individuals. The initiative's sole mission was to create career pathways and meaningful employment for neurodiverse individuals in the medical coding and billing vertical.

We are pleased to announce, largely due to the efforts the past few months by Westchester Medical Center, this group of neurodiverse students has graduated into the role of interns–putting them one step closer to meaningful employment with Westchester Medical Center.

The concept for this project began in the fall of 2018 with the CEO of Rockland Jewish Family Service, Maria Dowling. Rockland Jewish Family Service (RJFS) is a New York not-for-profit mental health and social service organization dedicated to providing professional human services, support, and resources throughout the surrounding community of the New York Hudson Valley. 

RJFS pulled together a consortium of local service providers and experts in the field. Working together, this consortium developed this intensive, 15-month medical billing and coding curriculum aimed at preparing students to take the AHIMA Certification Exam–a nationally recognized, comprehensive test designed to test the preparedness of medical coders. 

It was an amazing result to see all 11 coders pass the exam! 

As a Vocational Rehabilitation Services partner, Jawonio hired the individuals onto their payroll to be funded by the state of New York. Jawonio has created space within their organization for the interns to work on campus, easing the way for employment coaching support and encouraging a team atmosphere for the interns. 

In the medical billing and coding industry, some working experience or internships are expected prior to fully entering the job market–which is why current internship roles through Westchester Medical Center are so crucial to students’ continued success. Not only are they learning the skills needed for success in the healthcare and coding industry, they are also gaining the necessary experience and confidence to excel as permanent employees. 

Once the interns are ready to enter permanent employment, both Jawonio and Westchester Medical Center will continue to support them through stabilization in their jobs and beyond, as needed. 


Each stakeholder played an important role in getting this group of students to where they are today:

  • Pena4's Central Learning platform was pivotal in choosing the right students with the highest likelihood to succeed in this program. The system offers an objective resource to measure true coder accuracy without the excessive time, prep, cost, and management inconvenience associated with manual coding audits. When asked about Pena4’s experience on the project, Joe Gurrieri of Pena4 said: 

“We are proud to have contributed towards creating meaningful employment in medical coding for the interns. These individuals dedicated their time, working extremely hard to gain the knowledge and skills in medical coding. They are the true pioneers of this program and have paved the way to not only a skilled job but a respectable, nationwide career for neurodiverse individuals. Pena4 looks forward to continuing this initiative by replicating it with another new cohort in the very near future and many more after that."

  • Jawonio, which offers a variety of vocational services including diagnostic vocational evaluation, vocational counseling, pre-vocational training, vocational training, competitive employment, sheltered employment, and supported employment, said they “could not be prouder of the interns, nor could [they] be more grateful for the partnerships of all involved to create these opportunities for them. This initiative is a strong and positive example of how true community collaboration works for the benefit of people with disabilities.” 

  • Jordy Rabinowitz, Chief Human Resources Officer with Westchester Medical Center, believes that “all healthcare businesses are looking for creative ways to find good talent” and that this solution was not only creative but served a need within the community as well. Rabinowitz is thrilled to have been a part of each graduate’s journey and eager to hire them as full-time employees. He is “looking forward to seeing this process duplicated across areas outside of the coding community and in other healthcare organizations.” 

  • Andrew Hoffman, program development consultant with Rockland Jewish Family Service, showed unwavering determination to see this program through to the end, despite COVID-19 interruptions. When asked why they advocated so hard for this program’s success, Hoffman said: 

“We believe everyone has the right to meaningful work and the right to feel positive about what they’re doing. It is important that their impact positively affects their personal and professional lives.” It is easy to see just how deeply that belief travels through each and every student and executional partner that participated in the program.”

  • Lana Rheubottom, Senior Supervisor of Vocational and Placement Services, Jawonio Inc  said:

    “We are so grateful for our partnership with Pena4 and Westchester Medical Center. In less than two months, ten very diverse interns have been able to establish a path to vocational success as medical coders. Not only are we excited about continuing to develop and nurture our partnership with Pena4, but we have also found their insight, kindness, intrinsic knowledge, and ability to see the potential in each individual an amazing asset. The mentorship component offered by Anna Lisa Russo-Scholer at Pena4 has been a key support for the interns' success as well as for the continuing progress of their career trajectory to obtain permanent employment. Rockland Jewish Family Services, ACCES-VR, Rockland BOCES, Pena 4, and Westchester Medical Center along with Jawonio, have formed a wonderful collaborative partnership to make the Medical and Billing Coders Program a game-changer that is providing a fantastic opportunity for all the participants.” 

  • We’d also like to mention and thank John Byrne, who was instrumental in forging the relationship and partnership with Pena4 and Westchester Medical Center. 

  • Finally, one of the interns in the program, Zachary Szmulewicz was thrilled to have been provided this opportunity as well: 

    "I would like to thank everyone for helping me get to this point in my career!”

This incredible initiative was the result of so many different people with the same passion and drive to make it a reality. Without each player, this initiative would not be where it is today–meaningfully employing a group of neurodiverse students into a career that they can confidently grow on their own. 

Because the program was so successful and each partner’s experience was so positive, the next step for this initiative is to replicate it among other student groups and with more healthcare organizations within the New York area. We’d like to express our sincerest thanks to everyone who made this program possible and reiterate how proud and excited we are to see each student’s success. 

Without the following individuals, the success of this program would not have been possible:

  • Andrew Hoffman - Program Development Consultant, Rockland Jewish Family Service
  • John Byrne - Strategic Partnership Consultant, Rockland Jewish Family Service
  • Maria Dowling - Rockland Jewish Family Service
  • Michele Koenig - Rockland Jewish Family Service
  • Chris D’Ambrese - Rockland BOCES
  • Stacy Kantrowitz - Jawonio
  • Katherine Keating - Jawonio
  • Lana Rheubottom - Jawonio
  • Jordy Rabinowitz - Westchester Medical Center
  • Francine Fields - Westchester Medical Center
  • Dawn Yacono - Westchester Medical Center
  • Colleen Roth - Westchester Medical Center
  • Tracy Tillery - Westchester Medical Center
  • Prsicilla Hess - Westchester Medical Center
  • Manny Pena - Pena4
  • Joe Gurrieri - Pena4
  • Eileen Pena - Pena4
  • Paul Strafer - Pena4
  • Anna-Lisa Russo - Pena4
  • Joseph Naveen - Pena4

Be sure to follow all of these organizations to hear about more advancements as the Coders Initiative continues to develop. 

Please contact Michele Koenig, Director of Clinical Programs at Rockland Jewish Family Service, to learn more about programs and services.