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Raising the bar for recovery residences

May 1, 2010
by Beth Fisher, LCSW, MAC, CCS
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A group representing recovery homes in Georgia promotes standards as this residential option expands
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Recovery residences today suffer a similar dilemma faced a generation ago in professional counseling. Anyone with a house or a room to rent can hang a shingle and call themselves “recovery housing,” “sober living,” “halfway house,” “three-quarter way housing,” “transition housing,” or various other names. The name variations are as diverse as the services provided, from a nightly place to eat, sleep and attend a mutual-help meeting to multiple-year intensive treatment programs provided by licensed professionals. 

The critical question is, “How do consumers, recovery professionals and other organizations know if a facility provides alcohol or other drug users and people with mental health needs with a safe, healthy environment for recovery?” A common challenge in the addiction treatment field is “what's next?” for patients stabilized at primary treatment centers who have low recovery capital, are at high risk for relapse, and whose recovery was not sustained during previous outpatient treatment.

As a vital component of today's recovery care continuum, recovery residences can be an affordable and effective option as managed care creates shorter treatment stays. Professionally operated, recovery-oriented residential programs that enmesh residents in appropriate services in the local recovery community fill the service gap in a way that is not only economical, but also highly conducive to sustainable recovery.

The Georgia Association of Recovery Residences (GARR) is joining other leading voices in calling for high-quality services across the emerging recovery-oriented systems of care continuum for individuals and their recovery allies. GARR is a unique 501(c)3 organization that serves as a professional, volunteer accrediting body for recovery residence organizations in Georgia. Our members encompass varied demographics, for-profit and non-profit providers, and a range of service levels-from long-term treatment to what traditionally has been called a “sober home.” Operationally, we are a diverse group of organizations large and small. Our commonality is a shared commitment to professional standards of operation and recovery services supported by accountability to our local communities and to one another.

History and evolution

GARR was founded in 1987 in Atlanta by seven demographically diverse recovery residences that came together for the purpose of support, accountability and idea sharing. Doug Brush, Past President of GARR and Men's Director of the Metro Atlanta Recovery Residences, says GARR's history “began as support meetings, particularly around issues of interfacing with the people and communities in which our facilities were located. Soon we established standards that would enhance the recovery programs of our organizations, and developed written criteria for recovery residence operations. We then created a peer review system and opened our organization for membership.

Over time, GARR's monthly meetings have evolved to include offering CEU trainings as an additional benefit to our members, as well as the professional community. Though the organization has grown tremendously, the founding principals of idea sharing, peer support, professional accountability, and most importantly quality operational standards remain essential to the GARR mission.”

Under the leadership of Joel Bagley, Immediate Past President of GARR and Executive Director of Purple, Inc., membership has grown to 53 organizations at varying levels of care, serving approximately 2,000 men and women in Georgia. This represents 17 percent of total residential recovery services provided in our state.

GARR's Executive Committee meets monthly for action planning, and membership meetings occur bimonthly for information sharing, fellowship and CEU trainings. Staff from member facilities volunteer for a variety of roles. Those who complete accreditation training conduct site visits with existing and prospective members.

The accreditation and re-accreditation process is a time of training and mentoring. Often newcomers have a passion for helping others but are unaware of the need for such essentials as a written policy and procedure manual, a business license, or even an understanding of local zoning requirements. The accreditation process helps the newcomer define “who we want to be” along the continuum from residential treatment to supportive living.

If treatment groups and counseling services are offered in a residence, the new organization is also guided toward obtaining the necessary state licensure to provide these services.

Guiding principles

Five cornerstone principles guide GARR's work:

  1. Promoting professionalism and quality standards for recovery residences.

    GARR standards are extensive and address the core areas of operations, facilities, and services provided. Reviewers are longtime recovery residence operators. Each prospective member is reviewed carefully and brought to committee for final approval. Organizations that do not evidence professional operating practices or a minimum of recovery support services and programming are not granted accreditation.

    All GARR members demonstrate professionalism through their record keeping, staffing and safety protocol (i.e., drug screening, emergency procedures). Each residential program must provide evidence of written policy and procedures that meet the GARR standards, as well as appropriate staffing (such as adequate resident-to-staff ratios, adequate qualifications for specific positions, etc.). Clear, ethical financial protocols must also be evidenced.

    All member facilities provide some type of programming to support and develop resident recovery skills. Treatment programs offer a varying number of clinical counseling hours each week, while extended care programs offer life skills classes.

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