OCEAN CITY – A new program is targeting addiction among hospitality industry workers.
The Worcester County Health Department (WCHD) has launched a new campaign, “Addiction in the Workplace,” that is aimed at raising awareness of substance abuse at places of employment. The initial stage of the campaign focuses on the area’s hospitality industry.
“We wanted to be able to link them to resources in the community,” said Tiffany Scott, substance use resource liaison for WCHD.
According to health department officials, the agency launched the Addiction in the Workplace campaign in June at the suggestion of Debbie Goeller, the county’s former health officer, who since retiring has worked with the department as a consultant. While the overall goal is to raise awareness of addiction at various businesses, because Ocean City is a resort the health department opted to specifically target hotels, motels and restaurants with the initial phase of the program.
“We decided to narrow in on the hospitality industry,” said Travis Brown, public information officer for the health department.
In addition to the importance of the industry locally, Brown said that nationally, statistics showed that food preparation workers and wait staff were among the occupations with the highest rates of illicit drug and alcohol use. In 2017, Brown said 59 percent of individuals in Worcester County Drug Court worked in the food service industry.
“That seemed like the best place to start,” he said.
With its new campaign, the health department has created a series of brochures, rack cards and posters to educate people regarding the signs of addiction as well as the resources available locally to those dealing with substance abuse.
“We really are trying to improve awareness about spotting signs of addiction,” Brown said, adding that changes in appearance and excessive tardiness were two potential signs of addiction employers were encouraged to look out for.
As substance abuse resource liaison, Scott is also available to answer questions and provide information on various WCHD programs. She said that often, people who worked in the hospitality industry only saw health department employees during facility inspections. She and Tyler Miller, a prevention services intern with the health department, are working to change that.
“We wanted them to see us in a different light,” she said. “We thought it was important they have someone to reach out to personally.”
The health department has partnered with the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association (OCHMRA) to share information regarding the Addiction in the Workplace campaign.
“One of the key elements of our association is to connect our members to available resources,” said Susan Jones, executive director of OCHMRA. “This program is a great example of doing such. With mental health in the news now, hopefully people become more willing to talk openly and seek the guidance that may be necessary.”
Scott said Jones had been instrumental in getting the word out about the program. Though it was just launched in June, more than a third of OCHMRA members have already received program materials—rack cards, posters and paycheck inserts. Scott has been in contact with many OCHMRA member businesses as well. She is eager to develop relationships with the rest of Ocean City’s hospitality businesses.
“We want to start with awareness,” she said.
In the discussions she’s had with business owners and managers so far, she’s learned that they’ve noticed that addiction is a growing issue.
“It seems like they’re aware of the problem but could use education around what resources could help,” Scott said.
With the educational information being provided through Addiction in the Workplace, WCHD officials are hoping they’ll be able to help resort employees get any help they may need in battling addiction. Scott said she was grateful to the businesses she’d contacted so far for being receptive and acknowledging that there was a need for addiction education in the community.
If this phase of the Addiction in the Workplace program proves successful, the health department is expected to broaden the program to focus on other local industries.
“Addiction in the workplace doesn’t just impact the hospitality industry,” Brown said. “We’d like to see this expanded.”