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A clearer NAATP ethics code may shut some members out of organization

December 11, 2017

A statement released publicly today by the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) indicates that the prominent trade group wants to take its strongest action yet against unethical business practices within its ranks. The statement suggests that “some members will not be re-invited into membership in 2018.”

In an interview Monday with Behavioral Healthcare Executive, NAATP executive director Marvin Ventrell said the number of member treatment providers that will not be asked to rejoin will be small in 2018, but perhaps larger than the number that were not re-invited this year (he did not offer specific figures). NAATP believes the number soon could increase for a couple of reasons:

  • A revised NAATP code of ethics that will be released in early 2018 will more clearly spell out the parameters of unethical business conduct in areas such as patient brokering and service misrepresentation.

  • While NAATP will continue to investigate formal complaints lodged against members, it also will choose to act unilaterally when it is evident that a member is not operating according to association standards.

“We will have much better clarity about what is and is not ethical,” says Ventrell. “It will no longer be credible [for a member] to say, 'We didn't know. We don't understand.'”

The NAATP statement, sent to association members, field leaders and the news media, positions 2018 as an important year for the association, which will be commemorating its 40th anniversary. “It is lost on none of us that the addiction field has a problem,” the statement reads. “Unethical conduct by certain treatment providers continues to harm patients and damage the reputation of credible providers as well as the very nature of our service.”

Path to this point

NAATP's leadership has wrestled for some time with the issue of how best it could serve as a positive force in an industry beset by what its statement calls “values-less profiteers.” While an outsider might conclude that NAATP has waffled over how aggressive it should be in policing business conduct, Ventrell suggests that the association has been intent on taking a more active approach for some time.

He says of the process of getting there, “It's harder than you think.” Part of that process has involved needing to have better data to document facilities' actual practices.

Over the course of 2018, the association will clarify its expectations along two tracks: a revised ethics code that will serve as an “Ethics 2.0” for members, and a Quality Assurance Initiative that will include practice guidelines and consumer education tools. The ethics code will be more specific than the present version in terms of what constitutes unacceptable practices in areas such as marketing and admissions.

“It is one thing to say that deceptive advertising is prohibited, but another to delineate what the actual practices look like,” says Ventrell.

He says NAATP's goal is not to remove members from the association but to serve as a catalyst to improve practice—and in turn, the field's overall standing with the public. “If a practice can be corrected, that's what we want to see,” he says. But there may be instances where it is clear that a treatment organization's practices simply are not in line with NAATP's core values.

Ventrell says the organization also is considering strengthening its overall membership requirements.

Both the leading provider organizations in the industry and the local grassroots providers that have been severely hurt by field misdeeds have been a driving force for reform, Ventrell says. But he also gives credit to the role of the news media, including the trade press as well as major newspapers such as The New York Times and The Boston Globe.

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