A quarter-century ago, 54 racetracks had on-track treatment programs to address addictions on the racetrack, principally in the stable areas where employees both live and work. Today, only a few of those 54 programs remain in operation. Moreover, national conferences seldom include worker health on their agendas.
Those developments lead to the question, “Have racetracks solved the human addiction problem?”
That question was posed in a panel at the Winners Federation's Professional Conference last month in Oklahoma City. The answer, provided by Remington Park President Scott Wells and California Horse Racing Board official Mike Kilpack was: “Absolutely not!”
Wells remembered that, as a 10-year-old, he listened to a star jockey wretch due to alcoholism. “Nothing has changed,” said Wells, “Anyone who is willing to listen can hear the same thing in 2013.”
Kilpack, a long-time CHRB supervising investigator who evaluates programs for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said that shortly before leaving for the conference he had assisted in closing down an on-track meth lab.
Now a member of the Winners Foundation Board of Directors, Kilpack said human-resources programs are as sorely needed as ever. “Drug use, and its threat to racing, is not going away,” he said. “It is just that the voice of concern is growing softer.”
When inspecting tracks that seek NTRA's certification, Kilpack says that he sometimes finds only a part-time chaplain as the resource for stewards who are deciding on an addicted racetracker's future. “Where are the helpful programs?” he asked. California racetracks are served by the Winners Foundation, a long-standing provider of addictions services.
Dr. Curtis Barrett who chaired the panel, recounted that TRA Executive Director Chris Scherf years ago said sympathetically that the Winners Federation suffered because it did not have a “cute issue.” Over the years, the issue has grown neither more attractive nor less harmful to the employee base and the racetrack environment.
Wells and Kilpack agreed that the questions of what to do about addictions on the racetrack and how to fund those programs remain the crucial unanswered questions. “That does not mean that we should stop trying,” said Wells. “There has to be a way if we are serious.”
Oklahoma Racing Commissioner Phil Kirk concurred. “We have to do better. It is going to take leadership,” he said.
The conference also featured a session for counselors on Motivational Interviewing (MI), which has proved invaluable in the treatment of addictions. Racetrack security and stewards were strongly encouraged to assure that MI is available in the agencies where they refer workers. Referring to professionals is not enough. If treatment is not successful, often because the professionals don't understand horse racing, the workers always manage to come back—and they bring their addiction with them.
Chaplains and counselors asked that Winners Federation address the often-neglected issues of racing's aging workers. This means the employee's family as well as the worker.
Kay Anthony and her team from the Oklahoma Department of Human Resources explained ways that any racetrack can obtain help for its workers and their family members.
These resources are available at no cost to tracks, but Anthony made clear that chaplains and on-track counselors must adapt these services to the reality of horse racing.
Racing Industry Charitable Foundation Executive Director Peggy Goetsch spoke to this point from bitter experience in Illinois: “Trying to deal with aging parents can bring down the best of us,” she said. “Yet just learning how to deal with dementia or other illnesses can make the difference and keep the employee on the job.”
“'Healthy Workers for Healthy Horses' remains the slogan of The Winners Federation and there remains plenty of work to do,” said Mike Stone, Winners Federation executive director. Stone emphasized the need to get the Winners Federation's message out to tracks. “All too often,” he said, “resources are wasted when tracks are going it alone. Racing cannot afford that waste these days. We have to be smarter.”
For more information about the Winners Federation please visit http://www.winnersfederation.org
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