‘Caring Workplaces’ Anti-Drug Coalition Meeting Topic | Local News

Providing a second chance for people with substance abuse issues who may have been incarcerated is the goal of the Caring Workplaces initiative.

The program, which is coordinated by the First Tennessee Development District, was detailed Thursday by Kristina Peters to members of the Greene County Anti-Drug Coalition.

It’s about companies being open to “hiring people with backgrounds” and breaking down preconceived stigmas, Peters told coalition members.

The program is funded by grants provided by a $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Rural Community Work Opportunities Program. Peters, a former state probation officer, said the involvement of business, schools and law enforcement helps Caring Workplaces grow.

“This is such an important initiative,” said Peters, workforce coordinator for the First Tennessee Development District.

Finding a job is one of the biggest hurdles for someone with a history of drug use and who may have spent time in prison, Peters said.

It is also advantageous for employers in the current employment context.

“We already have a labor shortage,” Peters said. “To me, it’s a no-brainer.”

Jobs are available in many local industries. It was noted at the meeting that 11,000 “Baby Boomers” are leaving the US workforce every day.

Caring Workplaces contracts through Ballad Health to provide program “navigators” who visit county jails to begin providing services to clients 90 days before release to prepare them to re-enter the workforce.

“That’s where we get potential employees. We recruit them,” Peters said. “Basically, we’re trying to change the culture and build a workforce in this region that understands they don’t have to have (stigma).”

Peters said participating plant supervisors and managers are “extremely pleased with the success they are achieving.”

At first, “it’s a scary thing, especially for people in HR,” she says.

Participating employers meet quarterly and host a focus group. Interaction with First Tennessee and other support agencies occurs regularly.

“Our mayor and our sheriff and this county are all on board,” Peters said. “Membership is key.”

The American Job Center in Greeneville is a participant, working with potential employees.

“They get a chance on an interview,” Peters said.

Barriers include transportation and housing.

“There are actually housing bonds available through the (state) Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services,” Peters said.

Referrals to the program come from the Greene County Rehabilitation Court and the Tennessee Department of Corrections Probation Office. Clients are placed with manufacturing partners and other employers who need help.

The Greene County Partnership and United Way of Greene County are active partners in the initiative, Peters said.

The program includes a series of steps for an employer to become a certified caring workplace. A Caring Workplaces Network is in place to help employers with the program, Peters said.

She said more businesses in the region are getting involved in the Caring Workplaces initiative.

The program’s mission is to “create an ecosystem of employers who are readily equipped to meet the addiction and/or mental health needs of their workforce” by implementing “recovery-friendly” policies, utilizing the resources and training provided by Caring Workplaces.

“Ninety percent of what we do is tone down the language,” Peters said.

Customers shouldn’t be called “delinquents” or “addicts,” she said.

Training is provided to employees in the workplace “and a lot of it is language related,” Peters said.

“There’s a whole book about language and overcoming stigma,” she said.

Peters posted a pie chart that estimates that 75% of people with addiction or substance abuse disorders are already in the workforce, but only 17% of employers believe their organization “is extremely well prepared to deal with the consumption opioids in the workplace”.

“When I talk to employers, they say, ‘We don’t have that problem here,” Peters said. “It’s very likely that they need help.”

There are 162 registered clients and 17 participating employers in the region. Thirty employees worked 30 or more days at a job, and 21 worked 90 or more days, Peters said.

Peters showed a video statement from an executive at RiteScreen, an Elizabethton manufacturer that participates in the program. The company received “gold certification” under the program in January.

RiteScreen got involved with the Caring Workplaces initiative “to try to give back to the community” and had good results, the executive said.

“I’m going to get up and I’m going to sell it all day,” he said.

“If you know anyone who’s interested, we’re happy to talk to them about it,” Peters told coalition members.

Jessica C. Bell