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Rush to quality: Fla. probe of sober homes fuels interest in best-practices summit

September 26, 2014
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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The fallout from an ongoing investigation into insurance fraud and related practices in South Florida's recovery homes and primary treatment centers is having a beneficial effect for leaders of the national association promoting standards of operation for sober residences.

Just more than a month after the first of perhaps several raids on Florida recovery home operators by state and federal authorities, the National Alliance for Recovery Residences (NARR) will host its inaugural summit on best practices for the industry, Oct. 17-19 in Atlanta. “I think we're going to see more Florida people coming up,” says Beth Fisher, who chairs NARR's standards committee and is a past president of the association.

Fisher, who directs the Hope Homes family of recovery residences, says NARR suddenly is receiving more requests from organizations seeking more detail on accepted practices in areas such as drug testing protocols for sober living entities. The initial organization that was targeted in the ongoing investigation by Florida's insurance fraud division, Palm Beach County-based Good Decisions Sober Living, was reported to have been billing insurance companies for four drug tests per resident per week.

Fisher says ethically questionable practices in areas such as drug testing and patient brokering are not relegated to one state, and she says in some cases ethical lapses result more from a lack of insight than an outright attempt to game the system. “A lot of people out there want to provide a service, but haven't had formal training,” she says.

The president of NARR's Florida affiliate, John Lehman, estimates that 80% of the recovery residence operators in his state want to do the right thing, but only a scant minority of those know exactly what is proper in all of the business arrangements relevant to the recovery residence community.

Fisher adds that with four distinct levels of recovery support in recovery residence operations, ranging in intensity from peer-run housing to organizations with accompanying clinical care, there often are four different answers to the question of what the acceptable practice standards should be.

Summit agenda

The three-day summit, which Fisher says is open to existing recovery residence operators as well as those considering entering the industry, will kick off by helping organizations define their mission and vision. Organizational topics to be addressed during the summit include insurance and risk management needs (presented by leading consultant Richard Willetts); the hiring and retention of high-quality staff; financial operations; crisis management; drug screening practices; and assessment of outcomes.

External issues to be addressed will include public communication and housing rights issues (the latter to be presented by attorney Steve Polin).

Fisher expects an attendance of around 75 to 100 at this first-of-its-kind event for NARR. “This is our first event to implement the dream that is the foundation of NARR.” she says.

“There's a huge professionalization happening across the board,” Fisher adds. “Treatment providers are now looking for certified residences [for referral]. We're getting the attention of providers.”

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