“It’s always good to see good people stepping up when bad things are happening,” said Terrance Welsh, chief medical officer for the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation (BWC.)
Welsh was speaking during a press conference held Tuesday morning at the Scioto County Welcome Center in Portsmouth to announce an up to $5 million, two-year pilot program intended to help employers in Scioto, Ross and Montgomery counties hire, manage and retain employees who happen to be recovering from addiction.
“We have employers that have jobs to fill and people in recovery who want to work, but the two sides don’t often connect because of safety concerns and other reasons,” Welsh said. “By working with both of these populations, our hope is to help businesses become more productive and workers in recovery stay on a healthy path and become productive citizens again.”
Backed with BWC funds, the Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) boards in each county will administer the program to provide employers:
• Reimbursement for pre-employment, random and reasonable suspicion drug testing
• Training for managers/supervisors to help them better manage a workforce that includes individuals in recovery
• A forum/venue for “second-chance” employers to share success stories, learn from each other and encourage others to hire workers in recovery
“We have high hopes for this program because we know people in recovery need more than medical and mental health intervention to be successful — they need a job, stable housing, a positive outlook and a supportive community,” said Sue Shultz, executive director of the ADAMH board for Adams, Lawrence and Scioto counties.
Shultz also made some brief, if emotional, comments regarding her brother, who she described as an addict facing some immediate, end-of-life health issues.
“Unfortunately, my brother is not going to get to live his life now,” Shultz said, her obvious if unspoken hope being this program will help prevent others escape their addictions.
Bart Frost is the human resources and safety director for Taylor Lumber and said his company employs several workers who are in recovery.
“What we know from our experience is that when people want to recover from an addiction and you give them the tools, they will recover,” Frost said. “We have several workers in recovery who are committed, loyal and do very well with us because they really appreciate the opportunity.”
Matt Simpson is one of the workers to which Frost referred. He told the audience assembled Tuesday he will have been clean for 5 years as of next April. He credited Frost and Taylor Lumber with giving him the chance at employment he so desperately needed. Simpson said there absolutely is a stigma connected with being a recovering addict, a stigma which often prevents those in recovery from gaining employment.
“A lot of times, all people need is that one chance,” Simpson said.
Simpson noted Taylor Lumber and the local drug court which helped him get clean, worked together to make sure he was able to both attend drug court as needed for his sobriety and at the same time keep his job. Frost described Simpson as an ideal employee.
“Investing in our workforce and partnering with businesses will benefit this entire community and help us all succeed,” said Kara Tieman, vice president of the Portsmouth Area Chamber of Commerce.
According to a press release, BWC held similar press conferences in Montgomery and Ross counties.
Once more according to a press release, Scioto County had 51 accidental overdose deaths in 2017, giving it the 10th highest overdose death rate in the state, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Montgomery County had 521 accidental overdose deaths, giving it the state’s highest overdose death rate for the second year in a row. Ross had 29, down from 40 in 2016, for the 14th highest rate.
National data shows the opioid crisis has lowered the labor force participation rate. In Ohio, opioid addiction, abuse and overdose deaths cost the state anywhere from $6.6 billion to $8.8 billion annually, according to a 2017 report from the C. William Swank Program in Rural-Urban Policy at The Ohio State University.
Employers or other persons looking for further information on the pilot program can contact their local ADAHMS board as follows:
•Montgomery: (937) 443-0416 or firstname.lastname@example.org
•Ross (Paint Valley): (740) 773-2283 or email@example.com
•Adams, Lawrence and Scioto: (740) 354-5648 or firstname.lastname@example.org