Johnson City Press: Ballad Health addiction specialist emphasizes need for reintegration
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Ballad Health addiction specialist emphasizes need for reintegration

Brandon Paykamian • Jun 22, 2019 at 4:37 PM

Jason Pritchard, a community and coalition engagement specialist with Ballad Health, was once struggling with a “full-blown addiction” to amphetamines and other stimulants for about 16 years. 

Pritchard’s struggles with substance abuse landed him in prison multiple times on convictions including three drug distribution charges. Back then, he said he “enjoyed the game,” but today, he’s a certified peer recovery specialist in both Tennessee and Virginia and trains other specialists in the region.

After years of abusing almost “anything that was an upper,” he’s now seven years into recovery and helping others do the same.

“People do recover, and they go on to live very productive and impactful lives,” he said. “I’m able to impact people’s lives across the board.”

Pritchard applied with Ballad after the health care company received a Health Resources and Service Administration Rural Communities Opioid Response grant. 

“I was given the opportunity to hire individuals to work with me on this grant,” Director of Clinical Engagement Casey Carringer said. “I met Jason in November, and we hired him in January.”

As Carringer began looking into regional solutions to high addiction rates in the region – particularly high opioid abuse rates – she increasingly realized a need to promote hiring people with felony records and past substance abuse, allowing them to re-enter the workforce.

In April, Carringer and Pritchard spoke at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event in Abingdon, Virginia, where Pritchard talked about his journey from addiction to recovery advocate. The two also spoke at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation in Washington, D.C., on June 11 to emphasize the need for allowing people like Pritchard to reintegrate. 

Carringer said part of the goal was also to highlight the role felon disenfranchisement plays into recidivism and substance abuse. She pointed out that the John Hopkins Health System has hired more than 1,000 people in Maryland and Florida with past addiction issues, and only one turned out to “be a problem.”

“As you know, many employers in the area have policies against hiring people with felonies, much less any violent crimes in their past,” Carringer said. 

“Being able to extend that second chance to someone changes the trajectory of their life. They are so grateful and thankful for that, and the loyalty and rapport you build as an employer begins immediately,” she continued. “Jason knows he doesn’t want to go back to that.”

Carringer’s personal experiences with addiction were part of the reason she wanted to utilize Pritchard’s insights to advocate for work force reintegration. 

“My brother is in recovery from heroin addiction, and so I met Jason and knew immediately we wanted somebody with lived experience on our team,” she said.

“If we are truly committed to the health of the region – specific to opioid abuse disorder and substance abuse disorder – we really need to engage with individuals who have lived the experience.

“No longer were we in our ivory towers trying to find solutions for individuals when we haven’t lived it.”

Through speaking with the Chamber and employers, Carringer said she’s noticed many employers are looking to hire and retain more workers. Compared to a few years ago, they’re more receptive to the idea of hiring people with criminal records and past substance abuse issues.

She said the tone of the conversation seems to be gradually shifting in favor of hiring people like Pritchard. 

“We don’t have to convince anyone that hiring practices need to change because they know that it’s not working,” she said. 

Pritchard’s message to regional employers is simple – it’s about “seeing past the past.” 

“Don’t deny them the opportunity to work just because they have a record. That was really our message,” he said. 

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