As the addiction treatment industry has continued to evolve and providers have come and gone, it would be easy for Spectrum Health Systems to rest on its accomplishment of staying in business for 50 years.
But the leadership team at the Worcester, Massachusetts-based not-for-profit shows no signs of being content with blowing out birthday candles and thinking about the past. CEO Kurt Isaacson this summer pledged that Spectrum will treat another 500,000 patients by 2025.
The company, which began as the Challenge House in Methuen, Massachusetts, in 1969, has continued to steadily expand over the past five decades, adding locations and services. In 2015, Spectrum opened its first subsidiary, New England Recovery Center, a private-pay, 104-bed inpatient treatment program. Today, Spectrum operates 18 inpatient and outpatient locations in Massachusetts, including three peer recovery centers.
Isaacson recently spoke with BHE about Spectrum’s ability to survive and thrive for 50 years, his vision for the company and the field at large in the coming years, and his plan for treating a half-million more patients by the middle of the next decade.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
We’ve seen a lot of addiction treatment organizations come and go through the years. In that ever-changing landscape, what does being in business for five decades mean to you?
It means a lot. To be providing treatment for substance use disorders for 50 years is huge. As you said, there have been a lot who have come and gone. We’re a not-for-profit, but we’re also entrepreneurial. We’re always looking for the next treatment model, the next kind of evidence-based treatment so that we are providing treatment that is proven to work. And we continue to expand. When I started with Spectrum in 2013, we were treating 2,200 clients in our outpatient programs per day. We are now treating 5,400 clients a day just in our outpatient programs. We’ve done that because we want to continue to provide easy access for clients. As you know, once a person with a substance use disorder raises their hand and says ‘I need help,’ you need to get them into treatment or there is a very high chance you’ll lose them.
I think it’s the expansion of our treatment options and services combined with the not-for-profit attitude and entrepreneurial culture that has allowed us to continue providing treatment for 50 years.
When you talk about expansion and that entrepreneurial nature and constantly looking for new models, what does that look like strategically for you? How do you go about that process?
We’re doing this because we want to reach more people and not necessarily make more money. I think that’s the difference. If you’re doing it for altruistic reasons, I think you make decisions based on what’s best for the client and not necessarily what’s best for the bottom line. We’ve expanded because we want to provide additional access points for people who need addiction treatment.
Looking forward, you’ve stated your goal is to treat 500,000 more patients in New England by 2025. How do you execute on that vision?
It’s the continuation of expansion to additional access points, primarily outpatient but also inpatient services so that we have the capacity to treat more clients. I wanted to put out on our 50th anniversary a pretty audacious goal. I thought treating half-million more clients by 2025 was pretty audacious. We will do that through continuing expansion and continuing to have ease of access. If there is somebody who needs our treatment and it’s a cumbersome system that takes a long time, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll leave without being engaged. But we have developed a system across our continuum where if somebody wants to come in to either inpatient or outpatient, they can come to one of our programs and get admitted and treated that day. There aren’t many facilities that will do that.
What do you see as being the biggest challenge in front of you right now, both for Spectrum and the industry at large?
I think the biggest challenge for us continues to be funding streams. [The state recently increased our rate to] $110 a day for residential treatment. You can’t get a hotel room, much less treatment and three meals a day, for $110 a day. We have other programs that have to subsidize to allow us to take state clients. That’s our mission, and we’re not going to run away from that. But we have to develop—and we have developed—other programs that take insurances, commercial insurances and self-pay clients that help offset the losses we experience on the public side.
Are there any trends impacting the field that you see continuing to be a factor moving forward?
There will be a continuation of development of new kinds of medication. Currently, we have methadone, Suboxone and Vivitrol. We offer all three types of medication-assisted treatment, and we use them depending on what the client’s needs are. I think there will be a continuation of both medication treatment and development of talk therapy modalities that will help increase outcomes for those with an addiction disorder.
Any other thoughts on the state of the addiction treatment field that you’d like to share?
I think the important piece that we and other organizations, including the state, need to focus on is the upstream piece of this addiction disorder. Prevention is key. We have to be in the school systems, the YMCAs, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, wherever young people are. We have to be there and providing education on what drugs are and what they can do. If you don’t have that education by the time you get to middle school, we may have lost you. You may go to a party and try something because you haven’t been properly educated on the problems associated with using drugs. It’s an upstream issue we have to address.