The Wright Center for Community Health partners with area organizations to launch Project PROGRESS recovery-to-work program
The Wright Center for Community Health, along with Luzerne County Community College, The Institute, the Northeast Pennsylvania Area Health Education Center and the Wayne Pike Workforce Alliance have joined together to reduce the stigma associated with substance use disorder by connecting people in recovery with recovery-friendly employers in the new community-based, recovery-to-work program, Project PROGRESS.
Project PROGRESS is an acronym for Providing Recovery Opportunities for Growth, Education and Sustainable Success, which serves Northeast Pennsylvania counties, including Lackawanna, Luzerne, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming.
Project PROGRESS is funded in part through a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission along with financial support from the five partner organizations. “The goal of the project is to reduce the impact of stigma related to recovery on employees, employers and the region. Often people connect recovery and substance use, which is true, but think bigger. Recovery is about coming into healthy ways of being. The impact of being in recovery is incredible and demonstrates hard work. Whole communities benefit when people are in recovery,” said Meaghan Ruddy, Ph.D., senior vice president of Academic Affairs, Enterprise Assessment and Advancement, and Chief Research and Development Officer for The Wright Center for Community Health.
In November 2020, Gov. Tom Wolf renewed for the 12th time his declaration that the opioid epidemic has placed Pennsylvania in a state health emergency. From 2015 to 2018, 1,149 people are reported to have died from opioid overdoses in the project’s six-county service area, according to OverdoseFreePA.
Meaghan Ruddy, Ph.D.
“A community’s capacity to create anything at the community level will in large part rely on the robustness of that community’s understanding of a need and commitment to creating solutions to meet that need. Leadership and innovative organizations in the six counties of focus for Project PROGRESS are painfully aware of the impact the opioid crisis is having on our friends and neighbors,” said Dr. Ruddy.
Yet, according to Dr. Ruddy, many community members lack an understanding of addiction as a chronic illness. In addition, health care workers default to stigmatizing the language of addiction when treating patients and many employers refuse to hire people in recovery. “This is all part of a structural misunderstanding of the tragic complexity of individuals struggling with addiction, and a lack of knowledge of the fact that individuals in recovery create communities in recovery,” she said.
Project PROGRESS seeks to promote educational options for people in recovery as well as promote community comprehension of the value of recovery. Luzerne County Community College is a member of Project PROGRESS. It engages by offering training to become a certified recovery specialist (CRS).
The role of a CRS is to build a strong and unique rapport with the individual in recovery based on their own lived experiences with substance use disorder. The CRS will help navigate, advocate and support individuals through their recovery journey. A CRS works to facilitate positive change and instill hope by modeling stable recovery and sharing strategies for success.
The first CRS cohort graduated in January with 11 graduates. A second cohort with 17 graduates completed their program in late April, bringing the total number of certified recovery specialists to 28. The program includes 66 in-class hours along with 12 hours of work to be completed outside of class. The training is designed to prepare individuals for work in the behavioral health field. Upon successful completion of the class, participants move on to the application process with the Pennsylvania Certification Board.
Northeast Pennsylvania Area Health Education Center, a member of Project PROGRESS, offers training to become a community health worker. This 80-hour program is accredited through the Pennsylvania Certification Board and is designed to provide the core competencies needed for work in community-based and inpatient settings.
Wayne Pike Workforce Alliance, also a member of Project PROGRESS, offers a recovery-to-work program that seeks to develop a strong recovery-to-work ecosystem. The Wayne Pike Workforce Alliance is focused on short-term training for immediate outcomes and employability. It uses the Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System testing and interest assessments to ensure educational success to determine the best fit.