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Serving up job opportunities for patients

February 26, 2014
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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As the addiction treatment field takes a firm grasp on the idea of a recovery-oriented system of care – that is, not just “treating” individuals and sending them on their way, but giving them tools and resources to use throughout their recovery – many organizations have been working with clients to help them with critical next steps that may include housing, education or employment.

At Wellington Retreat (West Palm Beach, Fla.), patients participate in a job skills group where they learn about areas such as resume writing, searching for jobs, interview skills, and professional etiquette. Marc Schettino, director of vocational therapy at the organization, runs this group and works with patients to assess what their existing interests, skills, and capabilities are as it relates to the job force.

As the clinical progress steepens, Schettino begins to help patients look for jobs. Many of the patients, who are treated for a variety of diagnoses including mental health and substance use disorders, have little to no job skills when they enter treatment. In these cases, the staff at the treatment center can help the individual get a job at Moran’s Italian Burger Bistro or Moran’s Catering, Inc., two businesses that are owned by Wellington Retreat.

The businesses are named after the CEO and medical director of Wellington Retreat, Robert Moran, MD. He recognized that there were distinct levels of treatment and milestones for people in recovery to achieve and that returning to work was one of them.

Barbara Ann Wilmes, DSW, LMHC, CAC, LMSW, chief compliance officer, explains that one of the challenges the organization faced in the past was finding placement for its patients. This was due to multiple factors, including:

  • Patients had limited time availability; they had to go to treatment during the day
  • Patients weren’t local and had to get their paperwork in order to work in the new community
  • Patients had little or no work experience

Because of this, Moran decided to create the restaurant and catering businesses where the underlying motivation was to employ those people for whom the organization could not find placement. He decided on a burger bistro because he felt that a burger and pizza business would be a great way for the patients to get experience and also would attract the recovery community as customers. The businesses have been open for about a year and a half.

The main idea for these vocational options, according to Wilmes, is to “give patients the reinforced idea that they can be part of a normal lifestyle and can reintegrate into the community in a healthy way.”

Although this is an important piece of the recovery journey, the patients aren’t pushed into the working world right away. After going through the partial hospitalization program (PHP) and progressing to the intensive outpatient program (IOP) level of care, they will need less intensive care and the clinical activities will be lessened. At that time, the staff feels it is important for patients to return to the community in a working environment, explains Wilmes, who is also director of utilization review.

The important part of the process is to maintain close contact with the patients throughout their treatment program and take the time to individualize each person’s plan. For example, when the counselors notice that the workplace is causing too much stress or detect that the patient is regressing in any way, certain built-in luxuries of an in-house exist – the opportunity to limit work hours, change work roles, bring the patient into a higher level of care, etc.

Even though the restaurant and catering business are connected to the treatment facility, that doesn’t mean patients automatically get a job. Schettino meets with the general manager once a week to learn about the positions available and discuss who might be able to fill those positions. Patients are assessed in order to find out which position would be the best fit – a server, cook, dishwasher, pizza line, etc. – and the patients visit the business for an interview with the manager. “They know the job isn’t really given to them, but that they have to earn it through the skills they’ve learned in the group,” says Schettino.

After the patients get jobs, they are then required to go through the training process as any other employee of a business would. The majority of the people employed at the two businesses are in recovery, either on their own path of recovery or former/current patients of Wellington Retreat. The manager of the restaurant understands the nature of her employees, as she has identified as a person in recovery (although not a former Wellington Retreat patient).

Moran’s Italian Burger Bistro offers wood-burning brick oven pizza, burgers and other menu options. But as far as drink options go, there is no alcohol in the restaurant so as not to tempt those in recovery from alcoholism.

As far as moving the patients out of the restaurant/catering business and to the next step in their professional career, Schettino says it depends on the individual. One person has been working with the catering company for the last seven months and Wellington Retreat has no desire to move him out quickly. He explains that patients will usually want to progress to find other opportunities or the staff will assist them in finding other employment. “We don’t look to fire or get rid of anyone until they are ready to make that move on their own,” Schettino adds.