As he joins several other longtime addiction treatment leaders in moving toward retirement, Gateway Rehabilitation Center’s Kenneth S. Ramsey, PhD, insists that his colleagues shouldn’t occupy themselves with concern about a leadership vacuum in the field.
“We spend too much time worrying about where the new leaders will come from, and how new leaders are being prepared,” says Ramsey, who next July will step down from 45 years of service in behavioral health by retiring as western Pennsylvania-based Gateway’s CEO. “Leaders at the right time will emerge,” he says, adding that he already saw evidence of this in meeting administrators new to the field at this year’s National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) conference.
Perhaps what field professionals should focus more on are the emerging industry trends that will shape the new leaders’ approaches to running their treatment organizations, Ramsey suggests. In an interview with Addiction Professional this week, he cited a comment he recently read from the chief executive of the Cleveland Clinic, who equated the effects of healthcare reform to an Industrial Revolution for healthcare.
Ramsey believes that for the addiction field, the Affordable Care Act and related initiatives will accelerate the pace of providers’ involvement with primary care and behavioral health systems. But he also predicts another kind of partnership: moves by insurance and managed care entities to acquire treatment organizations, likely within the next couple of years.
“I foresee mergers of full drug treatment centers and the funders, as they build their systems,” says Ramsey.
Ramsey, who has spent the past 35 years at Gateway, says the significant growth of his organization certainly exceeded his expectations. The nonprofit Gateway began as one 28-day program and now operates 20 locations in Pennsylvania and Ohio, serving more than 1,500 individuals a day with a staff of 700.
Ramsey says he is extremely proud of that staff’s expertise, as well as the fact that his organization has been able to serve a broad population by virtue of being fairly evenly split between a public- and private-sector patient base. That diversity is reflected in the many people Ramsey has met along the way in his local and national leadership positions, from presidents to steelworkers to professional athletes to street dwellers.
Ramsey, who plans to remain with Gateway in a part-time consulting and writing capacity until December 2013 (he plans to help chronicle his organization’s history), says he will miss being part of a process in which addiction professionals begin to work more closely with generalist physicians. He characterizes this as less of a true partnership and more of a problem-solving role for the specialty addiction sector, giving physicians a reliable option for assisting patients they don’t particularly want to treat.
He remains optimistic about the field’s standing as it goes forward, saying that more people in need will have access to care in the health reform era. He adds that he has no regrets about his career, outside of the occasions when he has had to lay off or dismiss a staff member.
And Ramsey fondly recalls a past comment from a Joint Commission surveyor about his “boring” career path that involved only two stops: a hospital-based behavioral health program followed by Gateway. “I see it as a real blessing,” he says.