In early 2018, Gov. Chris Sununu launched the “Recovery Friendly Workplace Initiative,” a program that offers support to businesses and agencies that hire people who are recovering from substance use and abuse.

Shannon M. Bresaw, program director for the N.H. Governor’s Recovery Friendly Workplace, says there are many benefits for a business in joining the initiative.

“By becoming a Recovery Friendly Workplace, you are showing strong support for your employees by creating healthy, safe and stigma-free environments for people in recovery and all of those impacted by substance use disorders,” says Bresaw.

Committing to the program demonstrates that a business is a proactive, valued community partner, she says.

“We know that workplaces that implement effective health and safety policies and programs are able to recruit and retain a healthier, more productive and more motivated workforce,” says Bresaw. “By joining this initiative, your workplace will have access to recovery friendly advisors who will help identify the unique needs of your business and recommend appropriate resources, trainings and support.”

Since the rollout, 26 companies and organizations, including the state of New Hampshire, have joined the initiative.

A recovery friendly workplace is one that develops policies and procedures to hire people in recovery or offers support to employees struggling with alcohol or drug abuse. A recovery friendly workplace is also open to receiving training on how to reduce substance misuse in the workplace and on how to support workers in recovery. They also get involved in activities in the community to raise awareness about addiction and the resulting problems.

“RFWs encourage a healthy and safe environment where employers, employees and communities can collaborate to create positive change and eliminate barriers for those impacted by addiction,” states the website for New Hampshire’s Recovery Friendly Workplace initiative.

Having meaningful employment is an important support for people in recovery, says Bresaw.

“We work closely with NH Works and other key stakeholders to promote job training and development opportunities for NH citizens,” she says. “Workplaces that become designated as ‘Recovery Friendly’ send a positive message to current and potential employees about their willingness to work proactively with people in recovery.

In Keene, Cheshire Medical Center has submitted a letter of interest to the Governor’s office to begin the process of becoming a Recovery Friendly Workplace.

“For years, we have been committed to partnering with local organizations to develop a comprehensive network of addiction treatment and recovery supports for the communities we serve,” says Don Caruso, CEO/president and chief medical officer of Cheshire Medical Center.

Caruso says Cheshire Medical Center is one of nine statewide “The Doorway” locations for the hub-and-spoke program administered by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

“We’ve integrated recovery supports within our healthcare services in areas like women’s health, and we support multiple initiatives in our region through our Center for Population Health,” notes Caruso.

The Doorway-NH is funded through a federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration State Opioid Response grant meant to ensure services for clinical screening and evaluation services and care coordination are no more than an hour away for any individual struggling with substance misuse or substance use disorders.

“As the largest employer in the Monadnock Region, our employees are also valued members of our community,” says Caruso. “Cheshire Medical currently offers employee assistance recovery programs and we work with professional licensing boards to support employees in recovery programs.”

Cheshire Medical also offers modified schedules to allow staff to attend recovery meetings and when appropriate, assignment or modification of an employee’s responsibility to support their recovery.

“Becoming a Recovery Friendly Workplace is an important step in continuing our commitment,” says Caruso.

In Jaffrey, Mary Drew, the founder of Reality Check, noted there are more than 28 million people in recovery in the United States.

“These people represent a large workforce that, if given the opportunity to excel in a workplace and the support to keep their recovery strong, will become a successful force for any employer,” notes Drew. “I too am a person in recovery and founded Reality Check with the hopes of ending stigma and fear surrounding people recovering from addiction.”

Drew founded Reality Check in 2009 to help people and communities affected by alcohol and drug addiction. It officially opened its doors in October of 2016, with the help of a White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Drug-Free Communities grant. Reality Check, a nonprofit organization offers addiction services such as prevention plan development for school districts, support for those in recovery to access treatment, community-based recovery services and holistic education related to substance use and abuse.

Drew says she also hopes to offer assistance to businesses in the Monadnock Region that are wondering what it takes to become a recovery-friendly workplace.

“Reality Check has applied for funding through the Community Development Finance Authority to implement the Recovery Friendly Workplace Initiative throughout south-central New Hampshire, with the goal of engaging and certifying a minimum of 100 businesses to become recovery-friendly,” she says. “This means employers would agree to take part in making worksites supportive of people in recovery by implementing an assortment of things.”

During the rollout of the program, Greg Williams, vice president of the nonprofit group, Facing Addiction, says that while the government can play a role in providing services for those in recovery, it’s the private sector that has the biggest sector in assisting struggling workers.

“Employers — as much as we would want them to get involved from a social cost perspective — they’ve been slow to the game because they haven’t known what to do with their own employees,” he says.

Williams says what the state is hoping to do is not new. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence pioneered recovery-friendly workplaces in 1944.

According to a 2017 report from PolEcon research, substance misuse costs the state $2.36 billion a year in health and criminal justice costs, lost labor force participation and lost worker productivity. That’s up from $1.84 billion in 2014.

“It makes good economic sense for businesses to proactively address these issues and be part of the solution,” says Bresaw. “We have the ability to connect businesses and their employees to crucial community resources to support prevention and recovery.” 

Robert Audette writes from Swanzey, New Hampshire.