From the Portland Business Journal

A Proactive Mental Health Tool

Small Business Innovation Awards_PBJ

For nearly 40 years, Portland–based Cascade Centers Inc. has built a successful business providing counseling, a crisis line, work–life balance programs and health and wellness coaching for employer groups.

Its Employee Assistance Programs that have been shown to improve absenteeism, reduce distraction at work and boost life satisfaction.

But these services have always functioned in a reactive mode, especially given the stigma around mental health issues, and Cascade's leaders realized they needed to get out in front of problems before they start.

“We can promote the program but we have to sit back and wait for them to call us,” said Julie Marshall, Cascade's vice president of clinical and operational services. “We wanted to develop a way to be more preventive and proactive and reach out to people who wouldn't have called and provide an intervention.”

The result of that thought process rolled out earlier this year. The WholeLife Scale integrates mental health into workplace wellness campaigns and gives employers a snapshot of the state of mental health in their workplace.

“We'd be in meetings where the HR people would talk about their short–term disability and drug spend and say, ‘You need to help us,'” said Anthony Brown, Cascade's vice president for sales and marketing. “We had traditional solutions but wanted to bring something more robust.”

Cascade partnered with a University of Oregon psychologist to develop the WholeLife Scale questionnaire, which it piloted with state employees.

Here's how it works. Employees answer a series of questions covering nine mental health “domains”: anger, anxiety, depression, post–traumatic stress, relationships, sleep, stress, substance abuse and work engagement. For example, one question asks how often over the past month you've thought you should cut down on drinking or drug use.

The evaluation takes about 10 minutes. Afterward, you get a report around the scores and recommended next steps, along with encouragement to take advantage of the employer's Employee Assistance Program.

Cascade, which is the 25th largest EAP provider in the U.S., recently presented the tool at an international conference. The feedback was positive, Marshall said.

“What's happening is employers are starting to realize there was a big wave of physical wellness, and everyone jumped on that and had high hopes for reducing costs, and they didn't reach that,” she said. “A big missing piece was behavioral health.”

Cascade is both marketing the scale on its own and pairing it with its existing EAP programs. The company may also license it to various organizations.

The company was founded by Brown's parents, Gale Castillo and Jerry Brown, in 1975. Cascade's Employee Assistance Program is now used by 360 organizations nationwide, encompassing 217,000 employees. The State of Oregon, City of Portland, Beaverton School District, New Seasons and McMenamins are among Cascade's clients.

Castillo said Cascade has always tried to anticipate new needs and trends in the industry.

“Between all of us, we put our heads together and brainstormed about what the need has been and currently is and built on our past legacy,” Castillo said.

The company: Cascade Centers Inc.

What makes it innovative: A longtime provider of Employee Assistance Programs, Cascade this year rolled out a new product called WholeLife Scale to measure and provide immediate feedback about mental health issues.

Headquarters: Portland

Top executive: Jerry Brown, CEO

Elizabeth Hayes
Staff Reporter
Portland Business Journal