Category Archives: Workforce Development

Why employers may be the first line of defense against SUD and mental illness.


“At Clarke Shoes and now at Easy Spirit we tried hard not to institutionalize the way that we interact with people, but instead we try to lead with our humanity.  This created a culture where people who were struggling with mental health or substance use disorders could ask for help—we worked to remove the stigma.” 

                                                                                               Jim Salzano, Easy Spirit Shoes

One of our mantras at Fedcap is “work completes treatment.” In other words, work leads to greater economic self-sufficiency, increased self-esteem, and ultimately healthy connection with colleagues—all antidotes to the roots of addiction. When an individual is employed and self-sufficient and working in an environment where the culture supports asking for help, many of the issues that led to addiction in the first place can be mitigated.


Jim Salzano, the CEO of Easy Spirit and prior CEO at Clarke Shoes, has led the way in creating a culture of acceptance and support for employees who struggle with mental health or substance use disorders. Mr. Salzano will be joining us on Wednesday, March 30 for our Solution Series discussion on how to turn a workplace culture from fear and stigma around mental health and substance use issues to one of support and encouragement. We’ll also hear from Matt Sisk, the Deputy Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation who himself struggled with the fear and stigma as he made his own path to recovery. Brooke Wilson, from Aetna will speak about the ways an Employee Assistance Program can intervene and support businesses, and Adrienne Occhino of the Boston-based Kimpton Hotels will talk about ways her business is working to change the culture around addiction and mental health.

The most recent statistics suggest that 23.5 million people suffer with substance use disorder or SUD. Here’s the problem: substance use disorder leads to a huge hit to an employer’s bottom line through absenteeism, reduced productivity, increased risk of injuries and illness and exorbitant health care costs due to issues such as emergency room visits, disability, and worker’s comp claims. It is estimated that $276 billion dollars a year are incurred by employers in the cost of care due to employee substance abuse issues and untreated mental illness.

These statistics can be reversed.

Many of the people who struggle with addiction or mental illness do not choose to get help. They lack education about what treatment is available, they lack resources to pay for treatment, or, like Matt Sisk, they are worried about what their coworkers will think of them. Employers can make a huge impact. By implementing policies and education about issues around addiction and mental illness, they can begin to reverse the financial and human toll.

 When employers do not appreciate and understand the tangible and intangible price of mental illness and addiction, their bottom lines will continue to be impacted in ways that could ultimately be prevented. And yet,  if employers do understand and act, they can lead the way in changing not only the course of those who suffer from addiction and/or mental illness, but also create a positive culture  while reducing stigma and modeling to the greater society how these individuals should be treated and supported.

Join us on March 30th from 8-9:30 a.m. for our Solution Series: Addressing Employee Mental Illness and Addiction—Improving Your Business Bottom Line. Our four panelists will offer concrete strategies and solutions for creating a supportive culture in the workplace for those who have mental health or substance use issues.



Stigma, mental illness, and SUD—changing the culture one contact at a time.

In 2014, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health conducted a survey of 700 people to determine their attitudes about employment of people in recovery from substance use disorder (SUD). 64% of those surveyed believed employers should be able to deny work to an individual with SUD; 57% percent believe that those individuals should have the same access to employment—and health insurance—as someone who does not struggle with SUD.

In a similar study in the U.K., 58% of respondents said they believe drug addiction results from a lack of willpower. 43% said that they didn’t want to live near someone with SUD.

Just as there are facts to prove that climate change exists, there are facts to prove that SUD and mental illness are real—this isn’t exactly new news, especially in our field. It’s not the facts—or lack of facts—that are the problem—it’s what people believe that calls forth the stigma—both from the public point of view, and from the point of view of the person who struggles with mental illness or SUD. The facts also bear out that shame is linked to substance use issues—and of course, if shame is a driver to SUD, then it is piled on as a consequence of public stigma.

Research tells us that there are three possible strategies to combat stigma: 1) protest—tell people they’re wrong. This strategy is basically reactive, but can serve to further awareness. I don’t believe it is a leading strategy for eliminating stigma. Then there’s: 2) education—a much more effective tool, which can lead to improved attitudes as people are confronted with facts. Unfortunately, those who have tucked away stereotypes or prejudices are not apt to embrace education that could disavow them of their beliefs.

The third way to combat stigma is contact—direct contact with those who would potentially be stigmatized. Contact is a simple, human answer to the problem of stigma. Getting to know someone removes barriers—true in any sphere. And, getting to know someone in a work environment, where it is clear that an individual can be a contributing, viable workmate is one of the chief ways to chip away at a culture that will inevitably shift as people get to know other people.

I am very excited about our upcoming Solution Series on March 30th —our 11th—which highlights two employers who have taken strides to support their employees with mental illness and substance use disorder. The policies, practices, and processes they have in place all serve to reduce—and ultimately eliminate—stigma through awareness, education, and most importantly, through day to day contact among employees. Please join us—and please feel free to share your thoughts about stigma—what do you do—every day—that can work toward eliminating stigma?


Pathways to Possible—Granite Pathways as a model of peer recovery and what works.

This week we are very pleased to be announcing the  combination of Fedcap with the New Hampshire-based peer recovery center—Granite Pathways. This is a particularly exciting alliance as the work of Granite Pathways and Fedcap is closely aligned in approach to mental illness and substance use disorder treatment and recovery through peer-led practice. The marriage of our two organizations will have a huge impact on recovery efforts in New Hampshire, especially because this approach to meeting the needs of the mentally ill and those struggling with addiction works.

I am sure you are aware of the statistics: New Hampshire has topped headlines as the highest percentage of drug-related deaths per capita in the United States. Over 300 deaths were attributed to opiods in 2015 with at least 80 more suspected to be opiod related—an unprecedented leap from prior years’ statistics. Drug-related deaths topped highway deaths in New Hampshire for the year. The combination of Fedcap and Granite Pathways offers the opportunity for immediate and sustained impact in New Hampshire.

Addressing mental health issues and substance use disorders is complicated—we know that. There is no one-size-fits-all approach but evidence clearly suggests that peer-led strategies, structure, systems, processes, and policies are a solid foundation upon which recovery can be achieved. Research shows that a peer-led recovery environment decreases morbidity rates, improves self-efficacy, lowers incidences of depression, heightens self-esteem, and overall, improves quality of life. Th
e need for social support is the critical element—human connection—makes the difference. Working alongside someone who has experienced the challenges of recovery means that the support is credible and sustaining.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines peer-led recovery efforts in four domains: emotional, informational, affiliational, and instrumental. Each of these four domains offers both technical and social support. The emotional domain is clearly the driver of support as it reflects empathy, caring, and a real connection between and among peers. The informational domain includes learning—vocational skills and practical life-skills knowledge sharing. The affiliational domain seeks to deepen socialization opportunities inside and outside the recovery home. The instrumental domain offers support in a practical way—through problem solving issues such as transportation and child care.

Peer led centers provide hope for those struggling with addiction and mental illness recovery. Please join me in celebrating the alliance between Fedcap and Granite Pathways.

I welcome your comments and feedback about your experiences and thoughts on peer-led treatment options.

GranPathways logo final


Highlighting the Work of Fedcap’s National Center for Innovation and System Improvement

On Thursday, February 25 from 1:00-2:00 p.m. EST, Fedcap’s National Center for Innovation and System Improvement will host the latest in its webinar series—“Employment of the Previously Incarcerated.”

Sixty-three percent of individuals leaving prison are re-arrested within three years. Unemployment for those previously incarcerated in as much as 50% one year post-release. There is much work to be done to improve the outcomes for those who leave prison. We know that employment is one of the key—if not the key—factors in preventing recidivism. Thursday’s webinar will offer specific, concrete solutions and ideas for ways to support our previously incarcerated as they re-enter society. I urge you to participate—it’s not too late to sign up at:

The webinar series is just one among of the offerings from our National Center for Innovation and System Improvement. Living under the umbrella of our Community Impact Institute, the National Center offers technical assistance and training, web-based platforms, credentialing services, and assessment and planning tools—all aimed at building system capacity to better serve people with barriers. The National Center excels at data collection to help tell the story of the ways in which the work of Fedcap is making a difference—and can serve as a national model for creating relevant, sustainable change.

The work of the National Center is practical and practicable. It is driven by the commitment that those with barriers have a voice in decision making at every level—from policy to practice. It is a great example of the work that we do—to offer precise interventions that will change the way in which services are delivered and “move the needle” on their long term outcomes.

I am very proud of the work of the National Center and inspired by the staff from throughout the agency who contribute to the practice and research -thinking beyond the current boundaries of possibilities to forge new frontiers for solutions for those with barriers.

I believe we are all capable of this type of creativity, and I welcome your thinking on ways we continue to forge new interventions for those with barriers.

In the meantime, explore the work of the National Center for Innovation and System Improvement at, and please join us on Thursday to hear examples of what’s possible for improving the lives of the previously incarcerated.


Early Intervention and Treatment – Impacting Business Bottom Line

Individuals in recovery are among the bravest people I know. They are resilient and they are perseverant. They have faced one of the hardest battles ever fought, and they must be ever watchful. They fight not only the disease of addiction, but they are faced with ongoing stigma and discrimination that follows them when their struggle with addiction is found out.

Fedcap believes that work completes treatment. Research tells us that people in recovery are among the most highly motivated employees because they want to recover, they want to succeed, and work grants them the structure and the opportunity to get their lives back. Research also tells us that individuals in recovery tend to be loyal and committed to their employers—particularly grateful for the opportunity to do well. Many individuals in recovery are involved in programs which emphasize integrity and responsibility, hope and strength and a daily practice of gratitude. Data tells us that those in recovery also tend to take fewer sick days and are less likely to be on the absentee rosters.

And yet, we know that 46% of those in recovery relapse. Relapse is considered part of treatment. How can employers risk hiring those who might relapse?

Most employers have policies in place that can mitigate risk. Good employment practice would be to encourage early intervention, education and creation of support groups. Chances are quite high that there are individuals among the already employed who are battling substance use disorder. There is no doubt that given the statistics around substance use disorder, just about every employee knows someone battling addiction and would benefit from additional education.

Hiring and keeping motivated employees is key to any business bottom line. The cost of replacing one entry-level employee falls between 30% and 50% of their salary. For mid-level employees, the cost of replacement is closer to 150% of their current wage. And high level replacement falls at close to 400%. Substance use strikes all levels of employment. It is good business to invest in programs that support loyal employees in recovery.

On March 30th, at 8:00 at the Mutual of America Building,  Fedcap will host its 11th Solution Series discussing ways that addressing the needs of employees with mental health issues and substance use disorders can enhance business bottom line.

Please mark your calendars as we embark on this important conversation that will reflect the data and the stories that support our belief that hiring those with mental health and substance use disorders is good for business.


How can we work with employers to reduce stigma for the previously incarcerated?

One out four adults—65 million—have been incarcerated in the U.S. criminal justice system. At least 40% of these individuals will re-enter the system after release. This is not new news. But it remains an enormous societal problem. Ironically, we know how to mitigate the problem: study after study has consistently found that ex-offenders are less likely to recidivate if they are employed, and the longer they are employed, the farther they get from re-entering the system. However, employers can be reluctant to hire those who have been previously incarcerated without understandable reassurance of safety and preparedness to join the workforce in a productive role.

Research reflects that employers who do hire ex-offenders generally find them to be excellent employees. They are dedicated. They are motivated, and the data suggest that, for the most part, they are grateful to be given the opportunity to work for a legal income. In most situations, an individual’s criminal record has no bearing on their ability to perform their job.

An ex-offender suffers a lifelong sentence reflected in the stigma that comes with the fact of his or her incarceration. It is the stigma that gets in the way of solving the problem of recidivism. Many people fear that an ex-offender may revert to criminal behavior. They tend to believe that ex-offenders possess inherent character flaws that make them untrustworthy, unreliable, and undependable. Sometimes these fears are born out, especially when a former inmate recidivates.

How do we balance the tension between knowing that to solve the problem of recidivism, we need to support our ex-offenders by employing them, with the knowledge that the potential for recidivism is high?

Any hope of dismantling the stigma the previously incarcerated face must lie in approaching the problem from both a practice and policy standpoint. Practice includes meeting the education and job skill deficits of an individual. Vocational rehab programs like those found in our Wildcat Services addresses these deficits and prepares individuals to be job-ready. Successful employment begins to break the stigma as employers experience first-hand the work of dedicated and reliable employees.

Today 92% of U.S. businesses call for a criminal background check before hiring an employee. If the background check reflects criminal activity—of any sort—then an employer is not apt to pursue the candidate. What would happen if we shifted the background check policies? What if an employer has a chance to meet and get to know a candidate before dismissing him or her based on criminal record? Would that—could that—make a difference in how ex-offenders are viewed? I believe it could.

The good news is that there are pioneering employers who are focusing on solving the problem of recidivism by successfully hiring the previously incarcerated. We are fortunate to be working with many of these employers who are chipping away at reducing the stigma associated with hiring the previously incarcerated and ultimately, helping to reduce recidivism.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.


Employment As A Key To Reduce Recidivism

To change a community, start with a job.–Roberts Economic Development Fund

According to the 2015 Bureau of Justice statistics, 90% of all incarcerated individuals hope—and expect—to return to their communities as productive citizens.  They expect to have an address. They expect to hold a job.  They believe that they have paid their debt to society as sanctioned by the courts.  Yet the statistics reflect that 74.1% of offenders return to prison within 12 months.  And sixty to 75% of former inmates cannot find work within the first year out of jail. The result is that where there once may have been hope, that hope is quickly dashed when the realities of re-entry unfold.

Re-entry is complicated. As I wrote last week, the majority of those who enter the prison system are afflicted with substance use disorder and/or mental health issues. Many come from backgrounds mired in poverty. Most are stigmatized by virtue of time spent in prison. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to reducing recidivism. However, study after study has proven that previously incarcerated individuals who are employed are less likely to return to prison. Employment is a critical key to reducing recidivism. And, keeping just one inmate from returning to prison will save taxpayers roughly $80,000 per year per person.

If employment is key, then what is getting in the way of ex-offenders finding work and staying in the workforce?

One barrier to economic self-sufficiency is access to resources to help ex-offenders find work. At Fedcap, through our Wildcat Division, we provide transitional employment, vocational/work readiness training and jobs. We get to know those whom we serve—targeting individual skill sets, needs, aspirations—and help set goals. This individual, focused attention makes all the difference in the successful employment of ex-offenders.

In November, 2015, President Obama initiated a measure to eliminate requirements that job applicants check a box on their applications if they have criminal records. This measure, heralded by social justice reformers as the “ban the box” movement, aimed to reduce potential discrimination against former convicts in the hiring process for federal jobs. There is also movement to eliminate a background check early in the job application process to allow employers to meet and get to know a candidate before deliberately tossing the application aside because of an individual’s prison record. These are initiatives worth consideration.

Statistics prove that ex-offenders make good workers. We have experienced this at Fedcap. Giving individuals undivided attention, supporting their skill development, and offering concrete training will bear out that hope that they had before they left prison.

On February 25, Fedcap will be hosting a webinar focused on employment of the previously incarcerated. I urge you to attend, and to save the date for our Solution Series on March 30th which will feature a conversation with businesses who have successfully integrated ex-offenders into the ranks of their workforce. These conversations promise to not only enlighten, but also point to precise interventions that will change not only the life of an ex-offender, but also change our community for the better.

As always, I would love to know your thoughts.

Solving Substance Abuse Disorder in our Prisons—The Answers Are Out There.

In 2010, six years ago, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), a think tank that studies substance abuse and how it affects society, created a 119-page analysis to identify the extent at which substance abuse affects the prison population. The stats are staggering: over 80% of those incarcerated either suffer with substance abuse disorder (SUD) or have a history of substance use problems. In its report, CASA offered a set of concrete recommendations to address this problem—recommendations that would not only serve those currently incarcerated, but that would also alleviate the hemorrhaging of public funds that states consistently complain are being poured into the prison system. The money saved could be rerouted to treatment, both inside the walls and through extended care post-incarceration.

To see the full report, go to:

CASA’s recommendations include:

1)      Use trained healthcare professionals to screen, assess, and treat inmates as they enter the prison system.

2)      Provide treatment for co-occurring physical and mental health and addiction problems

3)      Provide comprehensive pre-release planning and after care coordination to continue treatment services

4)      Expand the use of treatment-based alternatives to jail and prison

5)      Require accreditation for prison-and jail-based programs and providers

Fedcap would add comprehensive work readiness activities to this list—due to the high correlation between employment and well being.  Fedcap believes that work completes treatment—for everyone including those re-entering society.

CASA estimates that the cost to implement their recommendations would be roughly $10,000 per inmate. That seems a high price tag, but not if you consider that if just less than 11% of those receiving treatment stay in recovery, the savings could—in just one year’s time—be close to $100,000 per inmate based on their successful return to society without re-entry into the prison system.

As I wrote last week, some states have begun successful programs that are chipping away at the addiction problem in their prisons. And, they are seeing substantial financial savings.  But there is no overarching, national support of these states’ efforts nor is there a comprehensive system to address the problem from the broadest level.

What is the reluctance to implement programs that would support individuals struggling with addiction and society as a whole?

We need to discuss the reasons behind the reluctance if we are to move to a national solution. What are our biases? What will it take to create a national framework, when, if implemented could change the paradigm not only for individual inmates and their families, but society as a whole?

The prison system is a perfect incubator to try out a national solution. The results of the efforts, are easy to track, monitor, and assess. Changes could be made quickly as part of an iterative and ongoing solution.

What do you think stands in the way of implementing well-researched strategies for addressing the addiction problem in our prisons? Why do you think there is such reluctance? And, what do you think can be done about it?

Why We Must Start Treatment and Work Readiness Inside the Walls: What will make the difference?

Six hundred and fifty-thousand people are released from jails and prisons each year.  The latest statistics suggest that at least 43% of those released will reenter the criminal justice system in some capacity. The criminal justice system costs taxpayers $52 billion dollars a year—and counts as the second highest expense within many state budgets.

Understanding and reducing recidivism is complex, made more so by the fact that each state chooses its own system of measurement—there are no consistent national measures. For example, some states count re-incarceration as a mark of recidivism while other states factor reconvictions, which do not necessarily result in a prison or jail sentence.  For more information on an eight-state recidivism study, go to the June 2014 National Reentry Resource Center white paper at .

In the past six years, there have been some state successes in reducing recidivism. Those states where the rates have dropped have a key point in common: they employ a comprehensive approach to reforming a system that includes:

1) Working with the incarcerated population as they enter the criminal justice system and alongside them within the prison walls before they are released. We can treat the 55% of men and 73% of women who suffer from mental illness.  We can treat the 30-60% of inmates who struggle with substance use disorder. And we can provide tools to become job ready once individuals are released.

2) Engaging business in readying them to receive newly released inmates into their workforce. We know that in general, previously incarcerated individuals tend to have a high work ethic. Clearly, risk management is involved in this process, but given Fedcap’s experience in working with the court involved and previously incarcerated, the work is doable if all the parties involved work together toward a common, optimistic goal.  Here is a link to a video that describes the journey of a young man involved in our program.

In the weeks to come, I’ll further explore the specifics around addiction, mental illness, and employment among those who are previously incarcerated.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Supporting Our Troops—Proactive planning for our returning veterans


Our returning veterans face unique health and employment issues that prevent them from an easy transition back to civilian life.

We know that in the last two years, unemployment for returning veterans was 9.0% vs. 7.2% for the overall population. Specifically, for 18 to 24-year olds, the rate has been documented at 21.4% vs 14.3% for their civilian counterparts. For twenty-five to 34 year old veterans, the unemployment rate is 9.1% vs 7.3% for the overall population.

We also know that one in four veterans returning from active combat suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, and that at least 20% of these veterans suffers from substance use disorder. 22 veterans commit suicide every day– and the majority of these are impacted by substance abuse and mental health issues. Mental health and substance use disorder causes more hospitalizations among veterans than any other cause.

There are successful programs that exist that focus on job training and substance use disorder treatment for veterans. Fedcap’s national recognized Career Design School has curriculum expressly tailored to meet the unique challenges that veterans face—including tapping into the GI Bill.   Our Easter Seals New York subsidiary supports businesses in their efforts to integrate veterans into their workforce. Our programs have served as national models. We have designed military to civilian translation tools, employer based training and sustained support for substance use disorders and mental illness.

What if we were to be proactive about supporting our veterans—even before they are deployed? What if there were a promise ahead of time of employment slots?

What if it were common business practice to have specific training and education set aside for veterans to reintegrate them into the workforce?

And what if, instead of placing the burden on the veterans and their families to “reintegrate,” we changed the way we view veterans and extend our civilian selves to meet them more than halfway by training and educating our non-military workers about the unique challenges that face their veteran coworkers?

What if we listen and believe the statistics around substance use disorder and often accompanying mental illness and/or traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder and decide to change the outcomes?

What if our workplaces were equipped to treat and hold the sustained effort it takes to support a veteran—even one challenged with mental illness or substance use issues? What would this look like? What could this look like?

We have the power to change the outcomes for our veterans.

Our work is to get in front of the statistics and the challenges for our returning veterans. Yes, we must continue to provide services in response to the issues facing veterans as they come home. But offering hope, a promise of security and safety, and operationalizing that hope by integrating it into the fabric of our workplaces would change the statistics, challenge the stigma, and support our veterans in concrete ways that will transform and dissolve the barriers for our servicemen and servicewomen to whom much is owed.

I welcome your thoughts.