Op-Ed: Employers Can Help Kentuckians Reach Long-term Recovery While Building Their Workforce

By LaKisha Miller, Van Ingram, Pat Fogarty and Jamie Johnson

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LaKisha Miller is Executive Director of the Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center. Van Ingram is Executive Director for the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. Pat Fogarty is Senior Vice President of Operations at Addiction Recovery Care. Jamie Johnson is Vice President of Operations at Dorman Products in Warsaw, Kentucky.

Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the past 18 months have brought many challenges for our health care system, businesses, schools and families. Now, employers of all types and sizes across Kentucky are eager to get back on track and contribute to the state’s economic recovery. But many are struggling to find and retain the workforce they need to bounce back, meet customer demand and take their businesses to the next level.

At the same time, COVID-19 has exacerbated another challenge that’s affecting our communities and ultimately our workforce and economy. Kentuckians with substance use disorders have been struggling amid the pandemic, too. Look no further than the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which shows Kentucky experienced a nearly 50 percent increase in overdose deaths between 2019 and 2020.

The evidence is clear: the addiction epidemic is taking the lives of our family members, friends, colleagues and neighbors. While more difficult to quantify, this public health crisis is also hurting Kentucky businesses that need a strong, stable workforce to flourish.

All of these factors combined—a long history of low statewide workforce participation rates before the pandemic, the ongoing addiction crisis that’s driving affected individuals and oftentimes their caregivers to leave their jobs, and a pandemic that fanned the flames of both problems—have created a perfect storm for our workforce challenges. But there’s reason to be hopeful about what’s ahead.

To address these growing concerns, the General Assembly and Governor Andy Beshear acted quickly by adopting legislation to grow our workforce while connecting Kentuckians with the treatment and services they need to address their substance use disorders and achieve long-term recovery. The result is the Kentucky Transformational Employment Program (KTEP), which empowers business leaders to play a leading role in addressing the state’s addiction crisis—an effort that will both enhance our workforce and strengthen our economy.

KTEP—a collaborative, statewide effort of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, Kentuckiana Health Collaborative and Kentucky Opioid Response Effort—aims to connect employees with substance use disorders to the comprehensive treatment and recovery services they need to be healthy and successful. It also encourages employers to hire Kentuckians who have gone through the treatment process and are eager to get back to work.

As members of Kentucky’s business community, treatment providers and strong advocates of long-term recovery, we are proud of what our elected leaders, state agencies and partners in the private sector have created to address these pressing issues. KTEP is coming at a critical time for employers, as the Commonwealth ranks 48th in the nation for workforce participation. This is not only bad for our businesses and economy; it’s also linked to low-level crimes such as drug-related offenses, high levels of recidivism and overdose deaths.

Fair chance employment isn’t only about opening doors and breaking down barriers for individual Kentuckians; it’s about helping us to thrive and flourish as a state. It can have a transformative impact on individuals in recovery and has the potential to strengthen our workforce and economy like never before. A steady job can provide people in recovery with the purpose, motivation and support system they need to stay healthy.

Meanwhile, Kentuckians who are currently struggling with substance use disorders may not know where to turn for assistance. KTEP will equip employers to help their workforce access and navigate the treatment and recovery system, so that when an employee does decide to seek support and assistance, they have a trusted resource ready to help.

There’s no doubt that businesses are spread thin right now and still working to recover from the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why KTEP was designed with a manageable implementation process and a variety of resources and training materials to help employers engage. Information can be found on the Kentucky Chamber Foundation’s Kentucky Comeback website.

At the end of day, Kentuckians in recovery deserve a fair chance—and by giving them the opportunity of employment and helping those with substance use disorders get treatment, we can develop the strong, productive workforce Kentucky needs to be the very best version of itself. We encourage employers across our Commonwealth to join in this effort and take a leading role in making it a success.

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