It is a privilege to be a trusted and integral part of a person’s recovery from addiction. Most of us in the behavioral health and addiction treatment field take this responsibility seriously, and we are fully invested in the recovery of patients and their families. So, I am deeply troubled when I see facilities cutting corners and bending the rules to increase revenue or profit. These actions are not only short-sighted from a business standpoint, but also highly unethical and potentially dangerous to those who have entrusted us to help them recover.
Frankly, the addiction treatment field lacks a consistent set of regulations, recognized best practices or outcomes—which leaves a lot of room for unethical practices such as patient brokering, purchasing of patients, or overbilling. Caron and other leaders in the industry are working with National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) to establish appropriate standards for ethically appropriate treatment, marketing and billing.
Money-making gimmicks are not treatment, nor are they sustainable in the long run. Businesses that depend on loopholes or lax enforcement to keep themselves solvent are ultimately doomed to fail, no matter how much “good work” they feel they provide to the community.
Of course, every organization, whether for-profit or not-for-profit, must be in good shape financially to produce its product or offer its service effectively. But there must always be an appropriate balance between the mission of the work and an expected financial performance. The mission must always come first, and the focus should always be on quality treatment.
Efforts pay off
Taking an ethical approach and putting best practices and standards in place may not always appear financially beneficial to addiction treatment organizations in the short term, but the effort will pay off by sustaining the business for the long run. It does not matter if the business is for-profit or not-for-profit, the emphasis must be on empowering individuals and their families to recover from addiction and begin the life-long journey of recovery. However, one of the benefits of being a not-for-profit, is that we don’t answer to investors. Therefore, we can engage in treatment, research, prevention, and charity care.
If we want the addiction treatment industry to be recognized as a legitimate healthcare sector, then we need to act like one. That means becoming patient-centric rather than customer-service-centric. Patient-centric treatment focuses on always doing what is right for a person’s long-term health, even if it causes dissatisfaction or affects profit margins.
A business that emphasizes ethics and values will ultimately be stronger. People want to participate in an organization that is making a difference. It starts with attracting and retaining the right people as staff members, but it spreads to volunteers, donors, investors and referring physicians, and extends to patients and their families.
I’ve heard story after story of someone who came to us because, in their moment of need, one of our alumni stepped in and directed them to us. None of that would be possible if our alumni didn’t trust us, and that comes down to living our values and ethics and always putting the needs of the patient first.
All of us, both for-profit and not-for-profit, are medical providers, treating a disease. We should never lose sight of that. Someone suffering from the chronic disease of addiction should have the same opportunity for high quality, transparent healthcare that other illnesses have. Treatment can be profitable, of course, but quality of care comes first.
Doug Tieman is president and CEO of Caron Treatment Centers.