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When substance misuse hits home

A woman nervously bites her thumb while looking at a smartphone. Northwell Health's Employee and Family Assistance Program offers free and anonymous calls to its substance misuse and drug-diversion hotline.
Northwell Health's Employee and Family Assistance Program offers a free and anonymous resource for those who struggling with substance misuse. Call the helpline 855-CARE4SA (855-227-3472) anytime.

Northwell staff members can connect with easy, anonymous assistance for substance misuse.

You probably know some of the ways that Northwell Health works to thwart the opioid crisis in our communities. But you may not realize that the health system also offers help closer to home for people struggling with opioids, alcohol and other substances.

The health system’s Employee and Family Assistance Program (EAP) provides fast, easy, affordable access to treatment for substance use issues. Help is available to anyone who works for the health system and their family members.

“All you have to do is call,” said Maria Madrid, LCSW, at EAP. That’s enough to access a variety of services, such as assistance in finding a treatment program, help with arranging a leave of absence if treatment requires it, and coaching through difficult conversations with family members.

National data suggests that between five and 18 percent of any health system’s employees have a substance use problem that interferes with functioning or quality of life, according to Curtis Reisinger, PhD, corporate director of EAP. Many contributing factors are the same as for people in other walks of life — with the addition of extraordinary stress common in the health care field.

“Clinicians routinely deal with suffering adults, children and parents, asking: ‘Am I going to be OK?’” Dr. Reisinger said. “And sometimes you, as a clinician, know it’s not going to be OK. Situations like that can be very emotionally taxing.”

Those with a substance use issue who work in health care often worry about their employer learning about it. As a result, they sometimes don’t consider using EAP but instead may pay tens of thousands of dollars out-of-pocket for treatment, Dr. Reisinger said.

“That’s unfortunate, because we offer a very generous benefit,” he said. “EAP is highly confidential, and there are numerous buffers in place to safeguard Northwell employees’ privacy.” In fact, Northwell’s new substance misuse help line offers complete anonymity. You can find information or services by calling (855) 227-3472, and there’s no need to provide a name or other identifying information.No matter how you access EAP, help is strictly confidential. Even if you need a leave of absence for residential treatment, your manager or supervisor will not be told why — only that your request has merit.

quotation mark We all lose if someone doesn’t function, and we know that. We want to help them have a successful recovery, and keep them employed as valuable contributors to our mission.
James Romagnoli

Life and license

Substance misuse puts clinical licensing at risk. But turning to EAP can connect you to the help you need and stop the downward spiral, Dr. Reisinger said. Treatment prevents behaviors that might bring attention from state regulatory agencies, so it’s the best protection for professional authorizations.

James Romagnoli, vice president of corporate security for Northwell, has his own perspective on EAP’s help for health system staff members. He monitors the systems that provide an alert for potential drug diversion, plus the employee drug diversion hotline for reporting concerns about a coworker (800-894-3226). Mr. Romagnoli spent 21 years in law enforcement before building Northwell’s corporate security department, and feels good about the options open to health system employees who struggle with substance use issues.

“We’re not looking to fire people,” he said. “What we’re really trying to do is get the person the help they need. We want to get them into EAP, because Dr. Reisinger and his team are very, very good at what they do.”

He has seen many EAP successes. “Many of our staff who have gone through this have returned to work,” he continued. “They’re functioning really well and it’s like we’ve got the person we hired back again.

“We all lose if someone doesn’t function, and we know that,” Mr. Romagnoli said. “We want to help them have a successful recovery, and keep them employed as valuable contributors to our mission."

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