Workplace MVP: Brandee Izquierdo, SAFE Project, and Stacy Meyr, Athletico Physical Therapy
Substance abuse in the workplace, a longtime issue anyway, is now front and center as hybrid and remote work complicates both how employers support their employees as well as address the issues raised by their substance abuse. Brandee Izquierdo with SAFE Project and Stacy Meyr with Athletico Physical Therapy joined host Jamie Gassmann for a look at factors employers need to be considering, ways SAFE Project is helping, such as the No Shame Pledge, what may be ahead for this issue, and much more. Workplace MVP is underwritten and presented by R3 Continuum and produced by the Minneapolis-St.Paul Studio of Business RadioX®.
SAFE Project was founded in November 2017 by Admiral James and Mary Winnefeld, following the loss of their 19-year old son Jonathan to an accidental opioid overdose. Read more about Jonathan Winnefeld.
The Winnefelds immediately channeled their grief into action, hoping to save more families from the pain of loss. Whether it was seeking treatment, getting answers, or understanding the nature of the disease – they knew there needed to be a different solution to help other families facing the same journey with substance use disorder.
They swiftly built our SAFE Project team of experts who strive for meaningful action through our programs, and lead efforts that are unifying, non-partisan and evidence-based. SAFE seeks meaningful metrics that strengthen our interdependent six lines of operation, and ultimately aim to achieve SAFE Communities, SAFE Campuses, SAFE Workplaces and SAFE Veterans across the nation.
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Brandee Izquierdo, Executive Director, SAFE Project
Brandee Izquierdo’s drive and determination are built on making an impact within behavioral health, promoting long-term recovery, and ensuring communities are educated and have the tools necessary to combat the addiction epidemic. Before leading the SAFE Project team, Brandee worked for Faces & Voices of Recovery as the Director of Advocacy and Outreach. In addition, she served as the Associate Director of Special Populations with Behavioral Health System Baltimore and as the Director of Consumer Affairs for the state of Maryland’s Behavioral Health Administration. In these leadership roles, Brandee has led advocacy efforts to expand access to behavioral health services and recovery support services while providing technical assistance both nationally and internationally, empowering others within the recovery movement. Her ability to build relationships and bridge gaps within behavioral health, community services, and criminal justice has been a catalyst for global peer expansion.
As a subject matter expert with the Center for Social Innovation, Policy Research Associates, SAMHSA, and the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC), Brandee has made vast contributions within behavioral health and within the recovery movement around public policy, outreach, and workforce development. Additionally, Brandee has made a significant impact within the judicial system, advocating for access to treatment and recovery, and is the principal investigator of Maryland’s integrated-Forensic Peer Recovery Specialist curriculum.
Brandee’s passion for service work and knowledge of recovery support services extend beyond behavioral health. With a master’s degree in Public Administration and a bachelor’s degree in Government and Public Policy, Brandee just completed a Doctorate in Public Administration with a specialization in Administration Justice.
Athletico Physical Therapy
Atletico started with one therapist trying to make a difference in his community. Founder and Executive Chairman, Mark Kaufman was a physical therapist and athletic trainer with a vision to help as many people as possible. He started by providing rehabilitation services for student athletes at various organizations, with his first two being Francis W. Parker High School and Chicago Lions Rugby. Through his work with these athletes, he recognized the need for a dedicated sports rehabilitation and physical therapy facility in Chicago which led to our first clinic opening in 1991.
Years later they have opened more than 550 neighborhood locations and added more services to help people of all ages recover from pains, strains and injuries. They employ more than 4,500 expert clinicians, athletic trainers, and other team members.
In addition to physical therapy, they provide athletic training, occupational therapy, specialty programs, and fitness services to high schools, colleges, and professional sports teams. Their expertise also includes evaluating workers’ compensation issues, like work conditioning, job-site analysis and ergonomic assessments.
Everything Athletico does is focused around the core purpose of enhancing people’s health and quality of life. When you choose them for your rehabilitation needs, you will discover their dedication to exceptional, compassionate care.
Company website | LinkedIn | Facebook
Stacy Meyr, Vice President of Payer Relations, Athletico Physical Therapy
Stacy Meyr is Vice President of Payer Relations for Athletico Physical Therapy. Stacy was trained as a chiropractor and a decade ago moved into payer relations and provider engagement. She has worked for Aetna and in the Medicare Advantage space. She has been with Athletico since 2020. She has over twenty years of Managed Care and Health Care Administration experience.
Stacy has a Doctor of Chiropractic from Logan University and a bachelor’s from Southeast Missouri State University.
R3 Continuum is a global leader in workplace behavioral health and security solutions. R3c helps ensure the psychological and physical safety of organizations and their people in today’s ever-changing and often unpredictable world. Through their continuum of tailored solutions, including evaluations, crisis response, executive optimization, protective services, and more, they help organizations maintain and cultivate a workplace of wellbeing so that their people can thrive. Learn more about R3c at www.r3c.com.
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About Workplace MVP
Every day, around the world, organizations of all sizes face disruptive events and situations. Within those workplaces are everyday heroes in human resources, risk management, security, business continuity, and the C-suite. They don’t call themselves heroes though. On the contrary, they simply show up every day, laboring for the well-being of employees in their care, readying the workplace for and planning responses to disruption. This show, Workplace MVP, confers on these heroes the designation they deserve, Workplace MVP (Most Valuable Professionals), and gives them the forum to tell their story. As you hear their experiences, you will learn first-hand, real-life approaches to readying the workplace, responses to crisis situations, and overcoming challenges of disruption. Visit our show archive here.
Workplace MVP Host Jamie Gassmann
In addition to serving as the host to the Workplace MVP podcast, Jamie Gassmann is the Director of Marketing at R3 Continuum (R3c). Collectively, she has more than fourteen years of marketing experience. Across her tenure, she has experience working in and with various industries including banking, real estate, retail, crisis management, insurance, business continuity, and more. She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mass Communications with special interest in Advertising and Public Relations and a Master of Business Administration from Paseka School of Business, Minnesota State University.
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting from the Business RadioX Studios, it’s time for Workplace MVP. Workplace MVP is brought to you by R3 Continuum, a global leader in workplace, behavioral health, and security solutions. Now, here’s your host, Jamie Gassman.
Jamie Gassman: [00:00:26] Hi, everyone. Your host, Jamie Gassman, here and welcome to this episode of Workplace MVP. The substance abuse, according to the Society of Human Resource Management, is one of the last taboo subjects to be brought to the limelight as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not that substance abuse on the job is new. It has been a longstanding issue or concern for workplaces. Why it has become a part of the mainstream conversation is due to the increased substance use as a coping mechanism amongst American workers in response to the stressors and challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jamie Gassman: [00:01:05] The concern for workplaces is that as workers moved to a remote working environment, the employer’s ability to see the signs of substance abuse became even harder. In fact, nearly one in three employers so about 30% surveyed during drugabuse.com’s August 2021 survey indicated that virtual work has made it nearly impossible to ascertain whether an employee is drunk or high on the job.
Jamie Gassman: [00:01:32] Now, going forward, with so many workplaces remaining in a remote or shifting to hybrid-type working environments, how do employers find a way to identify substance abuse issues that may be present within their employees? And, how do they create a culture that destigmatizes substance abuse disorder to create an environment where employees can feel safe to talk about what they might be struggling with their employer?
Jamie Gassman: [00:01:57] Well, joining us today to share their expertise and personal experience in navigating substance abuse challenges in the workplace are Workplace MVP’s Dr. Brandee Izquierdo, Executive Director at SAFE Project, and Stacy Meyr, Vice President of Payer Relations for Athletico. Welcome to the show, Brandee and Stacy.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:02:19] Thank you, Jamie.
Stacy Meyr: [00:02:21] Thank you. Good morning.
Jamie Gassman: [00:02:22] Good morning. So, we’re going to start out with our first Workplace MVP, so Dr. Brandee Izquierdo, Executive Director for SAFE Project. So, tell me, Brandee, you’ve got an interesting story for how your career has taken you to being the executive director at SAFE Project. Can you share your story with us?
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:02:41] Yeah, yeah, absolutely, Jamie, I appreciate the question. It is a pretty interesting story. I can tell you firsthand. I never thought that I would be in the world of behavioral health. You know, coming up, and especially in my career, I remember back in the day everyone’s like, “Where do you see yourself? You know, what are your aspirations?” I’m like, “I’m going to be the president of HP, Hewlett-Packard.” Right?
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:03:05] I used to work for voice and data communications organization or company. And, that was my first entry into the corporate world. What’s interesting about that is my substance use was lurking in the background, I am a person in long-term recovery. And, my substance use really affected me in many ways and I get – we’ll go back – we’ll go into that a little bit later of how you can find the signs and symptoms, I mean.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:03:30] And, that’s really what it is. You know, substance use or addiction is a disease. It blindsides us. And, I can tell you firsthand that addiction is not a career move for sure. But sometimes we end up in the grips of addiction and don’t really realize it. And what’s interesting about that, Jamie, is my entire career, whether it was the voice and data communications company or the construction industry, you know, I was in procurement and contracting, so I was doing a lot of different things. I used to work for a food industry as well. That’s a funny story that maybe I’ll talk about a little bit later.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:04:07] But, you know, I never, ever talked in terms of addiction with my colleagues who became friends, and it just continued to progress day after day, year after year to the point that I found myself in a jail cell. You know, mom-of-four found herself in a jail cell, still didn’t think I had a problem at the time. It was not until I went into a treatment center and was taught about the disease of addiction that there was an aha moment for me. And, I realized that I was not alone, that there were other people out there just like me. And, that was comforting, as odd as that sounds. It was extremely comforting because I felt a lot of discrimination and stigma in the workplace.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:04:54] I mean, we spend quite a bit of time in the workforce. I always say that, you know, our workforce is our extended family to a certain point if you build that culture. And it’s unfortunate that we sidestepped and we just kind of leave it lurking in the dark and don’t talk about addiction in the workforce when it really impacts just individuals and family members as a whole.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:05:19] So, that was my story. I mean, and just to end with this, I found myself in the behavioral health world and that’s where I am, and I’ve moved my career up, and now I’m the executive director of SAFE Project, really trying to combat this in all different forums within all different audiences.
Jamie Gassman: [00:05:38] Yeah. Thanks for sharing that. And, we’re going to dive into some of those areas that you kind of touched on in a little bit. But before we go there, tell us a little bit about what’s SAFE Project does.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:05:48] I think the question is what does SAFE Project not do? And, Stacy can probably talk about that a little bit more. We work very closely together.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:06:00] SAFE Project does a little bit of everything and I can tell you we bring our expertise from an organizational management standpoint and a behavioral health standpoint. We have a lot of organizations within the arena of behavioral health that do really great work, but it’s important for us to move that work outside of just the behavioral health arena and into the general public.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:06:19] So, SAFE Project really was – it began actually with Admiral Winnefeld and his wife, Sandy, who lost their son, Jonathan, to an accidental overdose in 2017 on a college campus. So, their hearts are near and dear to this topic and this subject. And, rather than sitting idle or bawling up around grief, they really wanted to take action so no one else would have to deal with this or struggle with the pain of losing their son.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:06:48] So, they started the non-profit SAFE Project, and it is actually built around different targeted audiences, including safe campuses, safe communities, safe veterans, and as we’re talking right now, safe workplaces. And then. It is fueled by six lines of operation.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:07:06] I won’t go into a ton because I know you’re going to ask me at the end how to get in contact with us, so I want to leave a little mystery there. But you know, just certain things like public awareness, prevention, criminal justice and law enforcement, family support, we do an array of things to help communities and workplaces and other targeted audiences and stakeholders find their place in this addiction epidemic and start to combat it through in tandem.
Jamie Gassman: [00:07:38] Wow. You really do cover all the bases for areas that, you mentioned a few that you hear very commonly are highly impacted by substance abuse. So, looking at what’s SAFE Project does and your role within SAFE Project, how does your personal experience in dealing with substance abuse and, you know, working through recovery in a program? How does your personal experience help you in your role?
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:08:04] Well, I think my personal experience, I mean, I always front lead with my personal experience. It’s important to understand that, you know, we can have all the research and the data in the world. But the reality is when we’re talking about over a hundred thousand Americans are losing their lives to the addiction epidemic, these are not just numbers. They are family members. They are friends. They are colleagues.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:08:26] So, bringing that personal experience in and having the ability to navigate stigma and discriminatory practices in all different arenas in all different settings not only allows me to do the work that I do and what SAFE does in general, but it also allows me to pull from my personal experience and share that story and really tug on the heartstrings of people to know that this is not just a public health crisis that we can rely on the government to mitigate. It’s really important for us to understand that it’s us as a whole, us as Americans coming together and unifying to stop this addiction fatality epidemic that’s happening.
Jamie Gassman: [00:09:08] Yeah, yeah, definitely. And so, you know, and looking at that, you know, the epidemic of this, you know, how big is the problem with substance abuse on the job in your opinion? I mean, as particularly looking at over the last two years where we know people are suffering and the ongoing stress. I mean, how big has it become since that?
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:09:29] So, I guess, you know, the one thing that I have to talk about is it’s bigger than we are choosing to acknowledge. Quite often you’ll see a lot. There’s a huge ripple effect from COVID. There’s a lot of conversation in terms of mental health and mental well-being.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:09:46] But the other area that we don’t necessarily want to talk about in the workplace is the addiction. And, I think a lot of that derives from fear. Managers, leadership not really wanting to address the issue. It’s their problem, not ours. And, assuming or trying to operate under the assumption that addiction stops at the front door. And, it doesn’t.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:10:08] So, we’re starting to create some leeway and really create some forward-leaning movement in terms of addiction. But you can only talk about a problem if you’re willing to acknowledge the problem. So, I think that’s why we’re here today to really talk about that portion of it. How do we acknowledge the problem to really get a handle and a hold on what it looks like in the workplace environment?
Jamie Gassman: [00:10:32] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, when you’re talking about employers that want to turn a blind eye or it stops at the door, it’s not coming into my work environment and we know that it is. What impact ultimately is that going to have on an organization when they’re not, you know, staying aware of that potential?
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:10:50] Well, we’re seeing, you know, it used to be the Great Recession. Now, it’s the great resignation, right? It’s really about the health and well-being of organizations. I mean, if we look at it from a bottom line, and I’m not going to take too much I’m in that conversation because I know Stacy can talk quite a bit about that, but you look at increased healthcare costs, right? Our healthcare costs are going or they’re skyrocketing. We’re looking at reduced productivity. So, individuals are not producing as much. We have higher employee turnover rates. And then, on top of that, increased workplace injuries. I mean, and that’s just what we can count, right? It’s not really talking about the emotional well-being and the health and wellness of the individual employees and their families. And it’s important that we talk about that, that aspect of addiction.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:11:42] You know, Stacy or not, Stacy, sorry, I was looking at Stacy. She’s so beautiful. Jamie, it’s pretty interesting when we talk about the health and well-being of the families. We have to talk about the holistic approach, right, not just the mental health aspect of things, but the root cause as far as mental health, but also what are the symptoms associated with mental health and wellness? And, quite often addiction is a component that we don’t want to talk about.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:12:16] And if we look even at organizations who choose not to address the addiction epidemic, I kind of compare that to sexual harassment in the workplace. We don’t ever want to believe in an organization that their sexual harassment going on, but we are willing to train on it. We’re willing to have those conversations and we’re willing to expose it. We need to do that same type of education and resource sharing in workplaces.
Jamie Gassman: [00:12:42] Oh, absolutely. That’s a great idea. I’ve not actually heard that shared in terms of, like, educating on substance abuse or some of those other areas that kind of drive some of this behavior.
Jamie Gassman: [00:12:52] So, looking at, you know, obviously, you kind of mentioned, you know, a lot of employees, it’s not like they choose that to be something that they do. There are things that, you know, maybe happen or reasons. Sometimes I’ve heard, you know, it’s hereditary. Their father was that way. Their mother was that way. It’s kind of followed generation after generation. But from what you’ve learned in the work that you’ve done, what are some of the reasons that an employee might develop a substance abuse disorder?
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:13:18] Well, there can be various reasons, and as you just mentioned, one of them could be genetics, you know, whether it’s the disease of addiction being passed down from generation to generation. It could be workplace injury. It could be just trying to numb the pain of something that’s happening in your personal life. There are various reasons. You know, it just could be just to get away from everything and not think about anything because there’s so much going on in the environment today.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:13:50] And, there’s also a loss of connection when we think about it in terms of COVID. You know, the opposite of addiction is connection. And, unfortunately for many, there’s a lot of lost connection. And quite often, individuals, as they grow up and as they enter into the workforce, they don’t necessarily have the coping mechanisms or the skills to navigate that lost connection. So, quite often you’ll find that people will turn to substances to get out of their way, to celebrate, to deal with grief or loss.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:14:21] So, there are various reasons that individuals end up having a substance use disorder. So, it’s important for us to understand all of those different avenues and how they are catalysts into full-blown addiction.
Jamie Gassman: [00:14:35] Yeah. And, in looking at that, obviously, you know, being there’s all these different ways that somebody might start to develop a substance abuse addiction, what are some of the warning signs that, like, an employer or coworker or even a family member or a spouse could be looking for that might help to identify that somebody is kind of going down that path?
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:14:59] Well, I think there are there are various signs, and I tend to be cautious in telling what these signs are because then we operate under the assumption that if someone comes in late then, oh my goodness, they have an addiction. And, that isn’t necessarily the case, but if it’s habitual lateness, habitually calling out of work, lost productivity, lack of engagement, or just a shift in personality. There are all different aspects in terms of addiction. We’ve seen or we’ve heard in the construction industry, for example, individuals who are out on site might go into the spot of parties and be there for quite a while and do this consistently, right? Or, signs that they’re sick. Perhaps, they aren’t able to use on the job, so they may end up going into detox. And, obviously, the drug testing, which I’m sure Stacy can talk about more on that aspect, too. I mean, that’s a real, real sign there, right?
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:16:07] So, I mean, there are all different aspects of addiction that come into play, and it’s important for us to have a culture or at least build a culture. Or if you do have a problem that you don’t have the fear of saying, “Hey, I may have an issue,” or teaching colleagues and friends to approach someone in a really compassionate and empathetic way and say, “Hey, I think maybe there might be an issue here. Could we talk?”
Jamie Gassman: [00:16:29] Right. And, I know we’re going to get in a little bit later in this conversation, talking about some of the ways that an employer can create that culture of openness.
Jamie Gassman: [00:16:39] But in looking at, like, some of the signs from a remote because, you know, I would imagine for an employer or a colleague, it’s a lot easier if you’re in the office or you’re working side by side to notice a change in your coworker. What are some of the things with this new remote and hybrid kind of work environment, which, you know, is not new for some employers, right, they were remote way before COVID happened, but I think the majority of employers this shift is new. So, how can they start to look for signs in kind of that remote environment? What are some things that you would recommend?
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:17:11] That is definitely a tough question. It’s much easier to hide your issues or your addiction when you don’t have to see people face to face. I mean, the obvious one is alcohol. And, I can speak to that firsthand. One of my issues in terms of addiction was alcohol use. And, I tell you. When I was working in procurement, I felt like I hit the jackpot because I work with vendors and I would go out for lunch and legitimately have the ability to drink during lunch, right? So, we’re not smelling that. So, our normal senses are not there anymore. It’s really navigating this environment or this virtual environment and what that looks like.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:17:54] Again, for any employer, some of the signs of substance use may be that, again, they’re not showing up to meetings on time. Perhaps, they were a 15-minute early person when they would show up to meetings and now they’re disheveled when they come online. Or, maybe they’re canceling meetings, or maybe they don’t start their meetings until really late, or perhaps you can’t get a hold of them, or they’re not answering emails as quickly as they typically would.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:18:25] It’s really again difficult to navigate the remote environment, which is why it’s so important, as a matter of fact imperative, that we have to create these cultures where individuals feel safe and comfortable having those conversations both from a leadership perspective, but also an employee to employee relational perspective.
Jamie Gassman: [00:18:45] Great. And, now we’re going to dive a little bit more deeper a little bit later in some other areas as well. But for right now, let’s shift over to our second workplace MVP, Stacy Meyr, Vice President of Payer Relations for Athletico. Welcome, Stacy. Can you take a moment to –
Stacy Meyr: [00:19:03] Thank you, Jamie.
Jamie Gassman: [00:19:03] Yeah. So, take a moment to share with us your career journey to how you’ve moved up your career path and becoming the vice president of Payer Relations.
Stacy Meyr: [00:19:15] Sure. So, I’m actually clinically trained as a chiropractor, and Athletico is a large physical therapy and occupational therapy company in multiple states, primarily in the Midwest and now on the East Coast. And, I no longer practice currently, but when I made that shift, some life changes happened and I went to a large payor. I worked for Aetna for about 10 years and then a smaller company after that in the Medicare Advantage space and [inaudible] my time and kind of my journey to get to this point.
Stacy Meyr: [00:19:52] I had several different positions. I work primarily in Payer Relations, Provider Engagement. And as value-based care started becoming, and accountable care started becoming more predominant in my time at Aetna, we learned that in order to help support healthcare providers to be successful in that space, we had to bring a lot more resources to them. And so, I’ve also done a lot on the population health management side of things, and I think that’s where particularly and the relationship with SAFE Project really overlaps because when we think about treating a patient and caring for a patient, that holistic approach is so important. You cannot compartmentalize or disconnect behavioral health challenges from physical health. And so, that’s really, kind of, how I got to this position and what the work is we’re doing now.
Jamie Gassman: [00:20:48] Great. So, and I know you kind of touched a little bit on what Athletico does. Can you dive a little bit deeper into kind of the services you provide and the type of work that you do?
Stacy Meyr: [00:20:59] Sure. So, as a physical therapy and occupational therapy provider, we treat lots of different patients and different conditions, but as Brandee mentioned, one of our big lines of business, if you will, that we work with are injured employees. And in the therapy space, there’s a lot of information research out there that talks about if patients can be managed early on from a workplace injury with hopefully not exposing them to an opioid or possibly addictive substance from a pain perspective that, they recover much faster, less cost to the employers, but also to the employee just feeling better, less risk of being exposed to other types of care that could be more costly or more of a concern.
Jamie Gassman: [00:21:55] Yeah. And, you kind of touching on an area that I know pre-COVID, I just remember the opioid pandemic, you know, and employees getting injured on the job, being prescribed an opioid that they become addicted to, that snowballs into their use of gateway drugs and kind of becoming even more of a problem. So, it’s great to see that you’re trying to find alternative methods to kind of supporting those employees without having to use a strong substance like that.
Jamie Gassman: [00:22:27] So, now talk to us a little bit about the work that you’re doing with SAFE Project and how are you leveraging the various programs and initiatives that they have for workplaces?
Stacy Meyr: [00:22:39] Sure. You know, I think the partnership has been a great opportunity, number one, in sort of two different facets, right? Obviously, we are a decent-sized employer. And so, looking at our own employees and what we can do to, as Brandee mentioned, create the culture, really focus on making the work environment a safe space to talk about addiction, you know, if folks need to.
Stacy Meyr: [00:23:08] And so, one of the things S.A.F.E Projects we partnered on is their No Shame Pledge, just creating awareness within our own workspace with our own employees and really promoting that that our culture is meant to be one of openness and that employees can talk about this in a safe space and hopefully be directed to resources and find support within their organization.
Stacy Meyr: [00:23:28] The other piece to this that I think is really important again, is because we are such a large healthcare provider and we have an opportunity to touch patients in a different way. So, I think creating the awareness within our own employees, which therefore can carry that on to patients, whether it’s putting up our No Shame Pledge, you know, certificates and things around our offices so that folks may ask about it or we can talk about what that is. And then, also with SAFE Project, having other partnerships and other resources that we’ve been able to tap into things like being able to put at-home drug disposal kits in our clinics, in our own offices for not only employees but also patients.
Stacy Meyr: [00:24:13] Again, we try to educate them about their physical health journey, about their pain management journey, and the opioid if they’ve been prescribed one, and how to try to mitigate those risks if we can get them feeling better and hopefully to pain-free, making sure that those things are not still in their medicine cabinet, either for the opportunity for themselves, for a younger generation. So, that’s really been helpful like I said, not only as an employer but also as a health care provider, just helping to create awareness and tap into some of the other resources that SAFE Project has been able to help us with.
Jamie Gassman: [00:24:53] Wonderful. And obviously looking at the trending – from the work that you’re doing with injured employees, but then also within your own work environment, are you seeing some of the increase in trends as well to some of the individuals maybe using substance abuse as a coping mechanism?
Stacy Meyr: [00:25:14] Yes. So, you know, I don’t have quite as much access or insight into that, probably as there are H.R. and obviously privacy issues there. But I think that it’s been very interesting even with the notion pledge, just the awareness, you know, and I think it kind of goes to like as Brandee said, talking about the fact that most people know someone, you know, they have a family member. And while even if it’s not them knowing now too that there is a safe space to be able to talk about, you know the support that they’ve needed or their own experience to try to educate folks to say this isn’t isolated events. We’re all touched by this. And, again, I think just really create that awareness. It’s hard, I think, for some folks to be able to share in that environment. But usually, once they’ve known that this is a part of our culture, it becomes much more comfortable to at least create awareness and you see these folks, and I know Brandee can speak to this how folks come up and then say, “Oh, you’re in recovery? Well, so am I.” Right? And maybe they didn’t talk about that before. And, I think that’s been just in itself, again, that acceptance piece, knowing that they’re not alone in that isolated and this should be something that we should be able to talk about or support.
Jamie Gassman: [00:26:35] Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I see, you know, individual, you know, people that I follow on Facebook, you know, really open about their recovery. And, you know, taking that moment to celebrate their milestones in that journey that they’ve been on. And, I always just find it really kind of inspiring to watch their stories and how, you know, I think, you know, part of their recovery is sharing so others don’t feel alone. And so, it’s great that you create an environment within the workplace where employees can feel that support from their colleagues.
Jamie Gassman: [00:27:11] How have your employees responded to that? Because obviously rolling something like that out – how did you do that and how did the employees respond to it? What did that look like?
Stacy Meyr: [00:27:22] Sure. So, well, how we did it, and obviously that was a lot with SAFE Projects help having had that experience and trying to, as Brandee said, move this from behavioral health out into the real world. You know, we did a lot of promotion internally, like a lot of organizations and we have internet, we have social media channels, and just getting our leadership teams, our internal communication channels to promote that message. And, we would take pictures with our No Shame Pledge certificates. And, just really, you know, those are the kind of things, right? That’s how we get the word out on these type of things now, and folks can really appreciate and start to have the conversation.
Stacy Meyr: [00:28:06] I think the response that we saw and I’ll couple of this again like with the drug disposal. Again, it’s just those things, those little things, but they’re tangible things that the employees see as, “Wow. This – we really are doing something about this.” We’re not just – it’s not just putting words to it, and that also because, again, that was also made available to patients, I think it created a more intimate setting for clinician-patient relationships knowing that, hey, this is something that Athletica sports, they understand the risk that could be associated with this. And, as a patient, I appreciate them sort of going the extra step as well as just, again, individuals being able to utilize the drug disposal bags and being able to make sure that we’re trying to be mindful of all the things that can impact this epidemic.
Jamie Gassman: [00:29:04] Yeah. And, I got to imagine that employees, just by the nature of your the messaging, the internal communications around it, the actual taking initiatives like with the ability for them to bring, you know, prescription medications they’re not using anymore starts to create that safe environment that lets them know it’s okay to be you and we’re here to support you no matter what. And I think that’s so important. And that’s just, you know, kudos to you and the team for putting that in place. Great.
Stacy Meyr: [00:29:38] Thank you.
Jamie Gassman: [00:29:39] So, we’re going to take a moment to you here from our show sponsor. Workplace MVP is sponsored by our R3 Continuum. R3 Continuum is a global leader in providing expert, reliable, responsive, and tailored behavioral health, disruption, and violence solutions to promote workplace well-being and performance in the face of an ever-changing and often unpredictable world. Learn more about how R3 Continuum can tailor a solution for your organization’s unique challenges by visiting our r3c.com today.
Jamie Gassman: [00:30:10] So, now I’m going to do – have some questions for the both of you and kind of bring the two of you together in a conversation around some additional areas on this topic. So, my first question is, looking at how leaders can create that open environment for employees to feel safe and talking about substance abuse. Now, Stacy, I’m going to have you start out with that because you’ve implemented a program like that. So, talk about some of the – are there any – you know, as part of some of the work that you guys have done in bringing those that awareness of substance abuse and kind of that support for employees, how were some of the ways that you kind of made it directly known that they could feel safe about talking about it? Or is there anything particular that you did where, again, messaging or anything that really was like, if you’ve got, you know, we’re here for you or anything like that that might be able to be helpful for other leaders that might be looking at implementing something like this?
Stacy Meyr: [00:31:10] Yeah. I think that again, you know, promoting it like we did from a top-down approach and really making it a core tenet of things that we talk about and that we focus on. But also pairing that with and this is the challenge that a lot of employers are facing, right? When we think about employee retention, we think about wellness programs and sort of how we structure benefits. You know, this is something else that we did, you know being able to message these things and promote resources available to them, right, whether we have, you know, phone numbers, they can call to get additional benefits and support and get routed, you know, for counseling and things like that. So, really making them just aware of their own employee benefits that are there should they have a challenge. Also, knowing that we have a resource in addition with a company like, say, or partner like SAFE Project, that folks need more additional resources, at least we can help point them in the right direction.
Jamie Gassman: [00:32:16] Awesome. And, from your perspective, Brandee, in the work that you do at SAFE Project and from your own personal experiences, you know, or if you’re working with leaders yourselves in the programs that you’re offering, how can an employer create that feeling of safety and get employees comfortable with talking about substance abuse?
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:32:38] So, again, that’s a great question, and, you know, Stacy had mentioned some of it leading with the No Shame Pledge, something as simple as a No Shame Pledge and taking a picture. We always say a picture is worth a thousand words. So, just having top leadership saying, “Hey, here, I identify that there’s an addiction issue. It may not be here, but we want to make sure that you all are comfortable for pictures and selfies, and using your own organization’s social media platforms” is the first step.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:33:10] But one thing that I also want to say, Jamie, is this takes time. You can’t come in and throw a No Shame Pledge and expect everyone to, you know, not still have their own stigma. If we look at lived experience or personal experience, as Stacy mentioned, nine times out of 10, someone in your organization has been affected by addiction in some capacity, whether it’s directly or indirectly.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:33:34] So, it is going to take time. And even with the partnership with Athletico, it has taken over two years for us to really work collaboratively and intentionally to continue what I’m hoping, I’m going to put it out there on live, right, is a long-lasting partnership. So, that’s number one.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:33:55] Number two, I think it’s important for people to understand that even as individuals in recovery, we can openly report history of substance use. But we do experience discrimination in the workplace, and quite often there are lower levels of acceptance among our colleagues. And that may be included, or there may be inclusion of microaggressions, verbal and non-verbal, and environmental contempt.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:34:23] So, it’s important for us not only to deal with the addiction side of things perhaps if someone is actively or actively impacted by this but also the recovery portion of it and what that looks like in the workplace environment. And, it’s important for us to create a level of wellness where everyone can share their experiences.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:34:43] And just lastly, I’ll give you a prime example of an indirect impact. We just saw an article come out over the weekend where a 13-year-old, I think it was a boy, lost his life and in high school. So, it’s not just about the person who lost their life in that high school environment. We have teachers and administration who are affected by this if we look at it from a workplace standpoint. We have the parents who have jobs who have to go back to those jobs, who are directly affected by this. And family members and friends.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:35:18] So, there is a ripple effect. So, how do we start creating an environment that it’s not an outside problem, but it’s an inside issue that we can cultivate and start to have those conversations? How do we support those parents and those friends in that environment?
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:35:35] So, the more we talk at it or talk about it at a leadership level, the more likely we are to have it facilitated at an employee level.
Jamie Gassman: [00:35:45] Yeah, absolutely, and then be prepared. You know, if you do end up in a situation like that where it’s tragic, it’s sudden that you have the resources in place to be able to support those employees. Great. Great ideas and feedback and points there.
Jamie Gassman: [00:36:02] If a leader – let’s just say a leader feels like they have an employee that has a substance abuse concern, how should they be going about a conversation with that individual? How should they approach it? Because, obviously, there’s, you know, you’ve got the great resignation. You don’t want to single somebody out. You’ve got H.R. complexities, you have to navigate with that. But how can the leader who’s concerned, how can they approach that in a way that they can be effective but also kind of compliant and all the other things that come with that? So, Brandee, why don’t you start with your thoughts around that?
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:36:40] Well, I think, and again this goes back to what I just said. It’s very hard and it’s going to take some intention in terms of cultivating a safe environment for people. So, it’s going to be much easier to approach that issue once you’ve cultivated that environment. It’s a lot – it’s much more difficult to have those conversations if you haven’t cultivated that safe space. And, I think we’ll start with that portion of it.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:37:09] You know, that is your first opportunity or your first chance not necessarily to address the addiction directly, but address the individual in terms of what’s happening in the workplace. What can they do as a leader to support this person?
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:37:27] One thing I can tell you as a person in recovery, I really pride myself on developing the skills of accountability and responsibility. And quite often, when you’re in active addiction, you’re still developing those skills of accountability and responsibility, so, as a leader, just being prepared that there may be some defense mechanisms that come up.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:37:49] But just starting that conversation and quite often, that may be the start of what I like to call the Monty Hall approach from SAFE, the No Shame Pledge, the At-Home we utilized Deterra disposal bags. The more you have those types of signs in your workplace environment, the more likely people are to let their defenses down and start those conversations, even if it’s something small. Right? So, you may want to start in that way. You may not necessarily want to single that individual out. You may want to make it a collective effort where you -like, you would in sexual harassment.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:38:26] I can tell you in the corporate world, there are many times that I’ve sat in those classes where it’s everyone included in that conversation. And then, perhaps that will fuel up or filter what’s really happening in that workplace.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:38:41] But, again, anything that you’re doing in terms of conversation or addressing an issue in terms of addiction, it’s really meeting it with compassion and empathy and understanding and diminishing or at least minimizing the fear associated with our job.
Jamie Gassman: [00:38:57] Awesome. Stacy, anything else to add to that question?
Stacy Meyr: [00:39:03] So, I think that even in my role as a manager, you know, when you work with people, any tough conversation, right, that you need to have, whether it’s based on performance or something going on with them, having that sense of trust, as Brandee said, having that empathy. And, I’m actually going to feel this a little bit because I think Brandee is the one who shared this with me originally is, you know, when we think about addiction to is I think there’s a certain amount of education that we have to be responsible for in the corporate world in that this is a disease, this is not something that folks typically choose. It is truly a physical and mental health problem.
Stacy Meyr: [00:39:48] And if somebody comes to us because they’re having challenges of performance, because they’re undergoing treatment for some other health condition, use cancer as an example, what do we approach it with. But empathy and understanding, and obviously that’s their private condition that they don’t have to share. But I think being able to understand and being compassionate about that situation, I think that’s also a big challenge and something that, as leaders, we need to keep in mind because we would treat somebody with a healthcare condition with compassion and empathy, no matter what, and we need to be thinking about addiction in the same way.
Jamie Gassman: [00:40:29] Great. Great advice. Now looking at, where we’re now into 2022. We’re still dealing with some of the same COVID challenges that we’ve been dealing with for the last couple of years, and some people are really starting to weigh on a lot of individuals. What are your thoughts around trends in what substance abuse might look like in 2022 compared to how we’ve been at, how we’ve seen the increases over the last two years? Do we anticipate it’s going to continue to climb? Is it really imperative that workplaces take action now? What are some of your thoughts around that as we now enter this new year? And, we’ll start with you, Stacy.
Stacy Meyr: [00:41:12] So, that’s actually something that particularly in the work we do with patients and some of our value-based care work, there’s really good and strong indication that, you know, one of the leading indicators when we think about pain management and just musculoskeletal health is that folks get unfortunately get prescriptions a lot of times before they get sent to therapy. And, this is one of the metrics that we track from a cost perspective, and it really is eye-opening where we work with other employers, right, and not just ourselves, but our work with other employers to help with their musculoskeletal management, to say, look at your cost trends, look at the number of prescriptions when we start monitoring those leading indicators as we help to manage their patient population, trying to get folks into therapy earlier. There’s a lot of states where they don’t have to be referred for a physician and just educating employees that that is an option, and it’s usually much faster to get care and get them pain-free.
Stacy Meyr: [00:42:21] But really, we all know the money talks, so to speak, so getting employers to even look within their own data when it comes to their health plan benefits, their workers’ compensation spends. And, those are some of the things that we look at when we partner with them and focus on how do we help really impact in a positive way. And, of course, one of those things is cost, to start with, and that in itself is very eye-opening for them. So, I think that is one way that we can help or that we have been helping.
Jamie Gassman: [00:42:56] Great. How about you, Brandee?
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:43:01] So, if we’re talking about trends and what the trends for 2022 to look like, unfortunately, it’s very gloomy because we are seeing the overdose rates rise unbelievably exponentially as a matter of fact. We are at over 100,000 deaths, which is about two hundred and, I think, seventy-five – I don’t do math very well – that’s not my expertise – people a day. So, that upped from 96,000 I think it was from March 2020 to March 2021, and then the new results came in April. And, we’re only seeing it increase throughout America. So, we can’t sit here and say that over 100,000 people aren’t in the workforce. We know that they’re in the workforce, right?
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:43:52] Restaurant industry, for example, is a huge, a huge arena for substance use disorder. We see it all the time. So just, you know, the trends are there and they are going to continue to rise in terms of deaths and numbers, or we’re also seeing, and I know many people have heard of it is fentanyl. Fentanyl is out there. As Stacy mentioned, there are a lot of different aspects to the data and the numbers, whether people are being prescribed pain medication or pain management. They’re not being offered the alternatives initially. It may be in conjunction or after the fact. So, they may not have access to that pain management or those prescriptions based on a state-by-state scenario and how they report it to the state all of that, so, there may be blockage there, which then leads individuals to go to street level or illicit or just trying to find other alternatives while they’re already hooked. We know it takes about five days to get hooked to opioids.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:44:59] So, it’s important for us to know all these nuances associated with addiction and be, you know, familiar with what’s happening out there in the environment so we’re not blindsided by it. Because this is not just an opioid issue, it’s an alcohol issue, it’s an Adderall or any other street-level pill that is being laced with Fentanyl. It’s taking people out. I just lost a very close friend over the weekend. So, it happens on a consistent basis and we need to be aware of it. And employers – if employers actually care about their employees, now’s the time to act.
Jamie Gassman: [00:45:40] Great. Sorry for your loss, because obviously it has to be really hard, especially at the type of work that you do in trying to reach out and help individuals with that ahead of time.
Jamie Gassman: [00:45:52] But if we’re looking at giving advice to an employer and trying to help them now with what they need to do first, so let’s say they want to take action, what would you recommend that they start with at least at a minimum as we going into this new year? Brandee, we’ll start with you.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:46:10] So, I think at least a minimum, and I know I’ve said it and probably sound like a broken record, is really something as simple as that No Shame Pledge. You know taking that No Shame Pledge from a top-down or bottom-up, not at least we’ll start the conversation or at least ease everyone’s mind when more in-depth conversation comes. That’s number one.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:46:31] Number two, ensuring that everyone understands the benefits plan that is associated with employment in terms of addiction or substance use disorder, as well as mental health. I think that’s another aspect of it.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:46:46] You know, even starting something where, hey, let’s have a committee on the different aspects substance use and mental health wellness in the workplace, to have that conversation. One of the best things that you can do is create employee buy-in when you’re talking about change or introducing change into a workforce environment. So, having those employees drive that conversation may be helpful as well.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:47:11] And finally, I think just creating that culture of compassion and empathy. I got to drive that home because the more understanding you are, the more likely I am to approach you and have these conversations.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:47:25] And then finally, if you do also create an environment where individuals come out of the woodwork in terms of recovery, be prepared because they’re going to talk about it. And, we need to be prepared to say, “Hey, that’s interesting. Tell me more.” So, just creating those environments of love and compassion in the workplace, they’re important.
Jamie Gassman: [00:47:48] Absolutely. How about you, Stacy? Any last bits of advice you want to provide to the listeners?
Stacy Meyr: [00:47:55] Yeah. And, I go back to kind of my previous comment. I think that, and Brandee and I have had this experience at conferences where folks think, “Oh, we don’t have an issue or a problem in our workplace,” right? “This happens elsewhere.” And that’s where I would go back to for a lot of entities. If they really need to see some things in black and white, then they need to be looking at their benefit plans. They need to be seeing what services are being consumed and where and in particular, when you look at pharmacy, what’s being prescribed. I think that a lot of them would be surprised. It’s been our experience that they’re surprised both in the number and the cost. And unfortunately, sometimes that’s what gets their attention to start the conversation. But I think that that’s probably another key element. When folks are in doubt, they can look within their own company and where dollars are being spent.
Jamie Gassman: [00:48:52] Great. Well, you both were provided such great information and advice for our listeners. If they wanted to get a hold of you and seek more information from you, whether about Athletico or the SAFE Project or have questions on some of the work that you do or that you’ve done, How can they go about getting in touch with you? And I’ll start with you, Stacy.
Stacy Meyr: [00:49:17] Well, happy to provide my personal email to share with folks, but obviously, like most areas, we have a website, athletico.com, that talks about all of our services. There’s actually a lot of good materials, short videos there about, you know, how to handle pain management, how to get into therapy. Of course, in the world of COVID, we’re doing a lot of virtual even assessments for folks that they don’t even necessarily have to come into a clinic. And, again, just materials that talk about how to avoid more costly either expensive therapies and/or hopefully get them to a pain-free state or decrease their pain much faster so they can reduce the need for other substances.
Jamie Gassman: [00:50:07] Great. And how about you, Brandee?
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:50:11] Same with Stacy, I’m happy to report my email, which I will. It’s brandee, B-R-A-N-D-E-E, @safeproject.us. But more importantly, come on our website safeproject.us. In the beginning, you’ll see the No Shame Pledge. I challenge everyone who is listening to take the No Shame Pledge and then just dibble and dabble in our website. We have a ton of resources. We have stories and we have specific resources for each of our initiatives, safe campuses, communities, veterans, and safe workplaces.
Jamie Gassman: [00:50:46] Wonderful. Thank you both so much for being a part of this show and for sharing personal stories, the great work you’ve done in your own workplaces and with other workplaces. Very inspirational and really appreciate the opportunity to celebrate both of you. So, thank you so much for being on our show. Really appreciate you as guests.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:51:04] Jamie, you’re like my BFF now. I absolutely adore you. Thank you for having us.
Jamie Gassman: [00:51:08] Absolutely. I always love – you can always take another BFF. I always hope for that.
Brandee Izquierdo: [00:51:14] Yeah, state-to-state. We should have BFFs in every state. That’s how we do it.
Jamie Gassman: [00:51:18] Agreed. Totally.
Stacy Meyr: [00:51:20] Yeah. Thank you for the opportunity.
Jamie Gassman: [00:51:22] Absolutely. And, we also want to thank our show sponsor, R3 Continuum, for supporting the Workplace MVP podcast and, to our listeners, thank you for tuning in. If you’ve not already done so, make sure to subscribe so you get our most recent episodes and other resources. You can also follow our show on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter at Workplace MVP. And if you are a workplace MVP or you know someone who is, we want to hear from you. Email us at email@example.com. Thank you so much for joining us today and have a great rest of your day.