Addiction treatment center administrators understand that in their often marginalized branch of healthcare, they serve themselves well to pursue a mission beyond the confines of their own facility walls. But at the same time, they often confront circumstances that force them to abandon the broader perspective for a time, instead turning inward.
This occurred at The Watershed, which had maintained a strong presence on national advocacy issues until a confluence of challenges struck it hard in the mid-2000s. One of those forces came from Mother Nature in the form of Hurricane Wilma, arriving just a couple of weeks after the opening of its Boynton Beach, Fla., treatment site.
Having happened right on the heels of what had been a tumultuous corporate battle involving the facility’s former CEO, the otherwise relatively mild storm represented the last straw for The Watershed’s board of directors. Its members would give clear direction to the organization’s new chief executive at the time, Christopher Crosby.
“The board said, ‘Focus in,’” Crosby recalls. “For three years in a row, we had been doing big events in conjunction with Recovery Month.” Suddenly, such pursuits would have to be categorized as frills.
Since then, The Watershed has stayed largely out of the national spotlight, focusing instead on expanding its continuum of care at two treatment sites in Florida (both in Palm Beach County) and one in Texas. But you might be hearing more from and about it in the coming months. At the end of the summer, the organization announced with some fanfare that on July 20 it had treated its 40,000th patient in its history.
A couple of weeks later, Crosby, who continues to oversee The Watershed’s evolution in the CEO role, paused to talk to me about where the organization, other providers in Florida, and the industry in general are going.
He did not mince words about what he has seen with the emergence of what has come to be known as the “Florida model” of treatment, or about the unfulfilled promise of a federal parity that is supposed to generate equity in insurance benefits (The Watershed has no government contracts and receives about 75% of its revenue from private insurance).
“It’s stunning to me that the final rules for parity are still not promulgated,” Crosby said in the September interview. He said of his business, “We try to be in the middle and serve middle-class people. We see primary treatment as requiring a good length of stay, not three to five days of detox only.”
Crosby, who was trained in nursing and worked in areas ranging from marketing to utilization review when he first joined The Watershed, says that as the organization largely stopped attending national conferences and redirected its energies, it became important to establish a full continuum of care. In 2006 it purchased a 120-bed apartment complex for individuals in recovery in Palm Beach County. At one of the recovery residential communities it operates in South Florida, individuals must have one full year of sobriety in order to be eligible to live there.
Crosby admits that it is difficult to let go of long-held views about intensive treatment, despite the realities of an insurance market that he sees as getting more restrictive. “I don’t think it was abusive to give people 28 days of treatment,” he says flatly.
He takes great pride in the service milestone his organization reached this year, and says the challenges of today’s marketplace simply motivate him and his colleagues to work harder.
“I refuse ever to give up,” he says. “We’re growing up as a corporate entity, and we are more motivated than ever to redouble our efforts.”