Recovery friendly workplaces: A model for building a stronger Missouri workforce and economy

University of Missouri Extension is helping communities and workplaces that are friendly to those recovering from opioid addiction.

April 20, 2021

Mike Thibideau recalls the dread he felt that Monday morning when he called his boss to tell him he was in treatment for addiction.

“His response was, ‘I’m proud of you. We’ll do whatever it takes to support you. Know that no matter what, we just want you to get well and get the help you need.’ In that fragile moment, that was a huge weight to be lifted, to know that I had a job when I got out and to know that my workplace had my back,” said Thibideau, who is now director of Indiana Workforce Recovery.

Thibideau shared his story as part of Recovery Friendly Workplaces: Building a Stronger Workforce in Missouri, a March 18 forum organized by University of Missouri Extension in partnership with the Missouri Rural Health Association, the Missouri Hospital Association and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Opioid and substance use disorder costs Missouri an estimated $34.5 million every day, or $12.6 billion per a year. In 2018, more than three Missourians each day lost their lives to an opioid overdose.

“The workforce challenges are real related to opioid abuse and workforce impact in Missouri,” said Herb Kuhn, president and CEO of the Missouri Hospital Association. “The opportunities are very real too. There is no time to waste.”

More than 300 business, recovery professional and community leaders attended the virtual forum, which was part of a two-year Building Capacity for Recovery Friendly Communities initiative. The initiative, led by MU Extension Community Health Engagement and Outreach and MU Extension Labor and Workforce Development, with the state Rural Communities Opioid Response program, will help local efforts develop the knowledge, skills and resources they need to become opioid recovery friendly communities and workplaces.

“I hope attendees came away with the sense of economic urgency that the state of Missouri is experiencing due to opioid use disorder in the workplace and its impact on employers, employees and all of society,” said Ann McCauley, director of the Rural Opioids Technical Assistance Project. “We wanted to show attendees that a recovery-friendly workplace model offers hope and solutions to these issues, and to present a model from another state (Indiana) that Missouri can use.”

Next steps for Building a Stronger Workforce in Missouri are to survey Missouri businesses, in partnership with the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, to better understand their needs in the development of effective education and training and to identify best practice models for Missouri.

A website, RecoveryFriendlyMo.com, will provide links to trainings and webinars about opioid use disorder, explain how businesses can be recognized as recovery friendly and provide a place where employers and employees in recovery can share success stories.

The initiative will also work with Missouri business, education and eventually advocates to address state policy issues. The initiative will develop friendly-workplace certification for employers and human resources managers who demonstrate commitment to hiring and retaining employees in recovery.

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