Inside Track: Family trauma drives Owens’ prevention passion
Drug screener and educator helms business uniting two roles to reduce risks on the job.
Andrea Owens carries a notebook around with her that says “teach, love, inspire” on the cover — words that summarize her life goals.
After a more than 25-year career in the health care industry — during which she was a medical assistant, drug screener, site manager and educator — Owens founded a business, HourGlass Testing Solutions.
She and her two employees provide on-site drug screening and education for employers, including reasonable suspicion training to detect if employees are under the influence of marijuana, as well as how to do breath alcohol tests and collect specimens for drug screening.
HourGlass also provides management services for companies’ nonmandated and/or Department of Transportation-mandated drug testing programs to ensure companies are complying and minimizing risks in their workforce.
Owens said one of the biggest factors that fueled her dedication to drug testing was a traumatic event that happened to her late mother Cora Butler years ago.
“My mom was in a really, really bad car accident when we were younger. The person that was with her was under the influence, and long story short, there was an accident. She survived physically but never really mentally,” she said.
Owens’ father, a factory worker, died when Owens was 7, so her mom was caring for seven children alone while also working full time at the post office on Michigan Street in downtown Grand Rapids.
“She was a great mom; she wasn’t diagnosed with any type of disorder (after the accident), but her hip was messed up for the rest of her life, she couldn’t walk the way she wanted, she couldn’t do the things she really wanted to do,” Owens said.
“With that in mind, I don’t ever want to see anybody be involved in an accident where they’re messed up, whether it’s emotionally, whether it’s physically — not on my watch.
“That accident changed her life forever. And even through it all, her faith kept her going. And as often as I think of her and how she lived out the rest of her life, that is what fuels my passion to do what I do. I’ll talk to any and all who will listen regarding safety and the effects that drugs have on a person’s ability to perform the job duties.”
Owens learned she had natural leadership abilities as a teenager working for the Kent County Road Commission clearing farmland for a new park in Byron Center. On the job, Owens discovered she could work peaceably with many different personalities while inspiring people to do better work.
After high school, she was interested in the medical field but didn’t have a clear path to pursue an education, as she had no funds for college.
One day, while she was working as a typist at a center for people getting their GEDs, an instructor pulled her aside and asked her, “What are you doing here? You have your high school diploma. I was able to get your transcript, and you did very well in high school. Why aren’t you in college?”
Owens told him she didn’t have money for it, but he was able to help her enroll at Grand Rapids Educational Center to study medical assisting.
She began her first job as a medical assistant in the late 1980s at Grand Rapids Industrial Clinic, which was acquired by Butterworth and later became part of Spectrum Health. She stayed at Spectrum for the next 25 years, becoming a medical assistant supervisor, then the SMART program coordinator.
While at Spectrum, she earned her associate degree in network administration from Grand Rapids Community College, then received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in management — while raising four children — through Cornerstone University’s Professional & Graduate Studies (PGS) division.
Along the way, Owens seized opportunities to teach — first as a clinical instructor at Everest Institute’s medical assistant program from 2012-15, then as a medical billing instructor and success navigator at West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology (WMCAT) in 2014, then as an adjunct instructor in business management and leadership at Cornerstone’s PGS program in 2015.
She still teaches for the latter two during the academic year, on top of running her business. She described becoming an educator as her biggest break.
“Getting into education, switching gears, being able to help people in a different capacity — I can’t get enough of it,” she said. “Whether it’s at WMCAT or at Cornerstone, it’s just been life-changing, transforming lives.”
In everything she does, Owens said she strives to be a servant leader and help people become their best selves.
Her mother instilled in her the value of relationships and that “everybody’s unique, and they need to be treated with respect.”
“That’s who Cora was. She taught us how to do that, and that’s what has shaped me over the years,” Owens said.
Another inspiration was a friend she worked with at Spectrum, Amy Sequeira, who invited Owens to go to “big girl school” with her at Cornerstone. Though Sequeira put her education on hold to have a baby and finished later, she was a nonstop cheerleader as Owens kept going.
“She helped me change my career path and get onto this education track — just encouraged me to keep it moving,” Owens said. “She truly believes that you just put your mind to it.”
Owens studied management and leadership at Cornerstone — including such topics as organizational behavior, processes, negotiation and conflict resolution — because she recognized that management is different than leadership, and she would need both skills in her future.
“My last years at Spectrum, for quite a few years, I ran their drug testing consortium — developing policies, procedures, training employers on the drug testing industry and then also training our employees on how to collect specimens and conduct breath alcohol tests,” she said.
“So (studying management) just felt like a fit. And then, if I wanted to continue on with leadership, I needed to understand people more because the process side, that’s not a problem, but understanding how to lead people (is different).
“The program at Cornerstone, the biggest takeaway out of all the things I learned was how to be a servant leader, whether you’re providing a service or product or whatever it is. How do you serve people and how do you help them be their best?”
Her efforts did not go unnoticed. When she left Spectrum and began educating full time, a friend took her out to lunch one day and said she’d been observing Owens over the years and believed in her abilities and her leadership skills. She urged her to start her own drug testing business.
Owens’ friend said, “I’ll tell you what, if you get everything in order, I’ll be your first client.”
HourGlass Testing Solutions was born in late 2013.
The business now offers same-day on-site testing, which means employers can collect specimens and store them or have HourGlass collect them, then HourGlass will screen the specimens on-site.
Following the legalization of recreational use marijuana last November, the education component of Owens’ work now is heavy on training employers about their rights when it comes to a drug-free workplace.
“I’m just trying to reach as many employers as I can and say, ‘Hey, you can still do business as usual. Don’t stop with the testing of marijuana.’ And how do you do that? How do you operate business as usual? That’s where I focus in.”
She said Department of Transportation workers are prohibited from using marijuana and are subject to mandatory drug tests. Even in places where drug tests are nonmandatory — which can include manufacturing settings where people operate heavy machinery — Owens urges employers to maintain a drug-free workplace to prevent injury and fatalities.
“We want to see safe workplaces, roadways and then the community as a whole,” she said. “It all ties together.”