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Why is compliance the heart of any behavioral health organization?

May 31, 2018

When I was first talking with Addiction Campuses about a potential job, I said I wanted the title “chief heart officer.” When the organization offered me a position as vice president of compliance, I joked, “What says ‘heart’ more than compliance?”

But, it turns out I was right.

And the lessons I have learned in my compliance leadership position over the past year have continued to reinforce the idea that as behavioral health professionals, we could all benefit from a heart-focused compliance and ethics program in our organizations.

Over my 30 years working in behavioral health, the compliance department has either not existed in the organization at all, or if it did exist, it was a reactive program to address the issues at hand, such as a confidentiality breach, a patient incident or staff misconduct. Certainly, the current state of our industry, which includes ethical complaints, court cases and legal battles, indicates that we have a critical need for more preventive and less reactive compliance programs.

It has been a huge learning experience as I research compliance programming in other industries to fully understand what is needed for a model behavioral healthcare compliance program. Since our daily work impacts the lives of our patients, their families, their collateral contacts and our staff, it seems imperative to build a program that is heart-centered that truly prevents, identifies and fixes problems just as the Health Care Compliance Association recommends.

When we commit the resources of a person or a department focused on compliance that is able to provide all the needed components and hardwire the concepts in all levels of the organization, we can avoid ethical problems or minimize their impact. As behavioral health executives, our goal is to build organizations that are financially and clinically sound with positive patient and staff outcomes.

It seems to me this is where the heart-focused compliance function is a necessity. It starts with policies and procedures that are seen as guides to our daily behaviors. When was the last time you read and used your policy manual? Consider regular oversight of the daily practices that implement the policies. At Addiction Campuses, we do this with monthly calls with each operational department to review policies, practices and any current issues. And ongoing staff education and training on all things compliance ensures staff can ask questions, bring up concerns and learn from each other.

We in behavioral health can bring genuine heart to our industry through compliance. I am so grateful that I get to do this work and bring my clinical and executive experience to the job. It truly is my heart and my mission over the next 30 years of my career to contribute to building a model behavioral health compliance program.

If we can encourage every conference and event to include the topics of compliance and ethics from a heart perspective, we can share best practices. This will help us all engage staff, empower teams and enhance organizational cultures based on compliance and ethics that are embedded in our services to support quality, safe care for patient and staff outcomes.

Maeve O’Neill, MEd, LCDC, LPC-S, CDWF, is vice president of compliance for Addiction Campuses.

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