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Financial guru finds Blount County facility to recover from fentanyl addiction

For Miami resident Jeff Sekinger, his six-years-long descent into addiction hell culminated with a $1,200-a-day fentanyl habit. About $82,000 in debt and after having raided his father’s safe for $5,000, Sekinger gave up and finally told his family he needed help.

He found his way to Blount County’s Cornerstone of Recovery for 31 days of intensive inpatient treatment. Next month will be three years sober for the 27-year-old Ohio native, who now runs two multimillion-dollar financial services firms from Florida.

“When it came crashing down, I knew I could do way more with my life. I knew I had a huge potential,” Sekinger said in a telephone interview last week. “I had the issue for six years but actively had been trying to quit for four years and failing. So I finally said I honestly can’t do this and I hate this. I came to the realization I had to let go of my ego and let the professionals do this because I couldn’t do this myself.

“You have to at least give it a shot and take it seriously. The sad thing is a lot of people don’t want to change. You will only change when the pain of staying the same — living in my dad’s basement and watching half a dozen guys around me dying — is worse than the pain of change,” he said.

Sekinger’s first shove into the addiction abyss came after a high school football injury. The Dublin Jerome High outside safety and corner was glued to his team’s best receiver one practice when their legs entangled and they came crashing down.

Sekinger tore all his rib muscles and got hooked on Percocet and muscle relaxers.

He became a functional addict who faked his way through a career at the financial services firm J.P. Morgan while smoking fentanyl every two hours, sometimes in the parking lot and company restroom. Ultimately he lost 20 pounds on a small frame and took on a ghostly pallor.

“I was a zombie,” Sekinger said.

Fentanyl is a supercharged synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more powerful. It’s the same drug that killed music superstar Prince in 2016.

Sekinger first went to Cornerstone’s outpatient facility near where he lived in Columbus, Ohio. Staff there immediately recognized he was too far gone for outpatient therapy, so they referred him to intensive inpatient rehabilitation.

His mother located Cornerstone’s facility in Louisville and his father made sure he made the flight to Knoxville.

Cornerstone young adult counselor Christopher Russell said Sekinger was eager to learn and take back his life. Russell’s motto is that everyone has a hero inside them; they just have to find it.

“I think Jeff had enough foresight to see the direction he was headed,” Russell said. “He was about to lose everything and possibly his life. He had this aspiration of being an entrepreneur. He was not going to be able to do all that he wanted. Our mission is to empower them to find the hero inside of themselves. Jeff did that.”

Sekinger said he now channels all of his energy into business. After graduating from the University of Kentucky in 2016, he began a 9-5-workaday existence. And he hated it because of the corporate shackles.

“I measure success now by helping other people, hiring more employees, being happy and healthy,” he said.

He is the founder and CEO of Zero Percent, a financial consulting company with 29 employees and a half-million dollars a month in business, and Orca Capital, an eight-figure cryptocurrency hedge fund with clients worldwide.

Yahoo Finance featured Sekinger’s business acumen early in 2020. See https://finance.yahoo.com/news/discover-why-jeff-sekinger-inspiring-185000956.html for that article.

“Everything I did for myself (to get out of his financial morass) I teach other people to do. I do consolidation loans. Credit repair. What’s really cool about my story is the financial issues I’ve had I’ve turned into a thriving business that helps others who want to get into business and want to thrive.”

Sekinger’s father, Ron, said his son was so skillful at hiding his addiction that he only noticed small, peculiar things — partly because Ron, who was retired from natural gas marketing, was traveling back and forth between homes in Columbus and Tampa, Florida.

“He was really good at hiding things,” Ron Sekinger said. “But because he was living with me I noticed some strange things. For example, we’d be talking in the family room and he would just nod off.

“It never occurred to me until we hit bottom. I knew things were missing in the house, there was a safe he had broken into, there was an awful lot of money stolen from me. He had these high-interest payday loans. He had access to my credit card, which had an alert when a charge hit $150. So he was doing $147 and $148.

Thinking back on his son’s multiple wrecked cars, Ron Sekinger said he has no doubt what ultimately would have happened to Jeff without his surrender to addiction.

“Jeff had a cousin that died. After going through five to six treatment facilities, nothing seemed to work for him. I’m awfully proud of Jeff.”

Leadership Blount Class of 2010 donates food to hospital workers

Blount Memorial Hospital employees are in for a treat this month as the Leadership Blount Class of 2010 is raising money to provide food for the workers whose jobs have been affected hugely by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Workers in several units of the hospital as well as MorningView Village Senior Community, Blount Memorial’s senior care facility, already have received individual snack bags as well as meals from Domino’s Pizza and Chick-fil-A.

Kelly Forster, a member of 2010’s class, said the idea to donate food to hospital workers came as the community expects a rise in COVID-19 cases this month.

“ … (I)t’s difficult for them not knowing what each day brings at the hospital with all the changes, protocols. One day is so different from the next based on demand,” she said. “It’s a stressful day in my opinion to think about what they go through when they walk in the door to work every day.”

The Class of 2010 usually has a Christmas lunch to reconnect and raise money for a charity. This year, the pandemic made the lunch impossible, but class members still were eager to donate.

In addition to the class members’ donations, LeConte Realty Foundation, Realty Executives – Debra Whaley and the Property Squad she leads, ICC International and a Blount Memorial Foundation board member have pledged their financial support. Domino’s, Chick-fil-A and Subway offered discounts for the program.

Altogether, more than $2,600 has been pledged to the food donation effort.

“We are very appreciative to Kelly Forster and the Leadership Blount Class of 2010 for their thoughtful initiative to Feed Our Hospital Staff Friends. The staff who have and continue to be recipients of the food donations are extremely grateful,” Blount Memorial Foundation President/Chief Operating Officer Connie Huffman emailed. “It’s really nice to see our community continuing to support health care workers who really have made tremendous sacrifices in the last 10 months.”

Forster said she hopes to provide food for the workers through the end of January. Should the class raise enough money, they’ll continue with the donation as long as possible.

“If we could get more money, it would be great to go through the end of February,” she said.

Forster said the foundation still needs a food sponsor for the last week of January. Restaurants that want to donate can visit blountmemorial.org/donate.php and select “other,” then type “food for staff: meal” in the comments section.

The community is welcome to donate at the same website by selecting “other” and typing “food for staff” in the comments section, organizers said.

Checks can be made out to the Blount Memorial Foundation and sent to 907 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway, Maryville, 37804.

To donate individually packaged snack items, the community can drop them off between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays at the Blount Memorial Foundation office, 811 Jones St. in Maryville.

Newly passed state laws include pregnancy accommodations, tobacco purchase age

New Tennessee laws, including protections for pregnant employees, raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products and more have gone into effect Jan. 1 or codified others enacted last year.

Here is a breakdown:

Employers must accommodate pregnant workers

This new law deems several potential actions by employers as discriminatory practices.

Those actions include failing or refusing to make reasonable accommodations for medical needs concerning pregnancy, childbirth or related conditions, unless undue hardship is caused for the employer; requiring an employee to take leave if another reasonable accommodation could be provided; and taking adverse action against an employee for requesting/using an accommodation regarding pregnancy, childbirth or related conditions.

Essentially, the law provides protections for pregnant workers, prohibiting employers from discriminating against them or refusing to reasonably accommodate them during pregnancy.

TBI alert program expands

With this act, which became effective on March 26, 2020, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation expanded its endangered child and young adult alert program. The program now includes endangered people under 21 years old.

It was named the “Holly Bobo Act” after a 20-year-old Tennessee nursing student who was abducted in 2011. Her remains were found days later.

Emergency dispatchers now offer CPR guidance

Emergency dispatchers across the board now can offer callers and bystanders CPR instructions, per this new law, which was also adopted in early 2020. It became effective on March 19, 2020, for rulemaking purposes and on Jan. 1, 2021, for all others.

It requires call takers and public safety dispatchers to be trained in telecommunicator pulmonary resuscitation, defined by the bill as “the dispatcher-assisted delivery of CPR instruction by trained emergency call takers or public safety dispatchers to callers or bystanders for events requiring CPR.”

The law also allows for civil immunity for an emergency communication organization, including districts, counties and municipalities, that has employees answering 911 emergency calls, as well as recently hired employees.

Tobacco-purchasing age is now 21

One of the most well-known new laws pertains to tobacco products: effective since Jan. 1, people now can’t purchase them until they are 21.

Under the legislation, those under 21 also can’t “possess, transport, and consume any tobacco products, smoking hemp, or vapor products,” unless they are doing so because of employment.

The legislation also brings multiple other changes to previous law: It clarifies that law enforcement can now use people under 21 in sting operations involving sales of smoking products, specifies vapor products as smoking paraphernalia and increases from 27 to 30 the apparent age of a person below which a seller must demand proof of age before selling them such products.

Help given for preventing veteran suicide

Another law that became effective on Jan. 1 was legislation that amended a previous bill and requires the veterans services offices provide suicide prevention training to employees who interact directly with veterans.

The training will “equip employees with the ability to recognize the warning signs of a potential suicide.” The legislation also authorizes the department to use resources from nonprofits for the training.

The amendment was adopted on April 17, 2019, but didn’t become effective until the start of this year.

Guidelines set for vehicle-sharing programs

This legislation sets requirements for peer-to-peer car-sharing programs, with car-sharing defined as “the authorized use of a motor vehicle by an individual other than the motor vehicle’s owner through the use of a peer-to-peer car sharing program. Such a program is a business platform that connects motor vehicle owners with drivers to enable the sharing of motor vehicles for financial consideration.”

Via an amendment to the original bill, multiple insurance requirements are set for the shared-vehicle owner, driver and overall program. It also lays out consumer protection provisions for users of the program, as well as tax provisions.

For the provisions regarding marketplace facilitator taxation, the legislation came into effect on Oct. 1, 2020, and for airport-contract and peer-to-peer sharing, the provisions became effective on Jan. 1, 2021. The law will go into effect for airport-related business on Feb. 1, per another amendment.

Correctional/emergency workers can retire earlier

Correctional officers and emergency workers who are members of the state retirement system are now eligible for retirement after 25 years of service, thanks to this new law, effective Jan. 1.

Via the original bill, the benefits apply to a correctional employee who satisfies current requirements for status as a correctional officer, which include good moral character, certifiable proof that they don’t have an impairment that would affect their job performance and completion of appropriate basic training.

An amendment to the bill also extended early retirement benefits to emergency medical services workers; such benefits were already available to police officers and firefighters.