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Accreditation elevates a program

January 1, 2010
by Sherief Abu-Moustafa, RN, BSN, CAP, ICADC
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A Florida agency emerges from the process energized, not overwhelmed

Sunlight Recovery is a Florida-licensed and CARF-accredited treatment facility specializing in the treatment of addiction and co-occurring disorders. It is located on the campus of The Florida House Experience in beautiful Deerfield Beach. We offer long-term treatment at an affordable price that addresses issues from addiction to personality disorders, and emotional issues as they emerge. Our services are based on a long-term treatment approach beginning with medically monitored detoxification and residential treatment, then moving through the continuum of care to intensive outpatient services, transitional living and off-campus graduate housing.

We treat a diverse population, both male and female using a gender-specific approach. Our residents vary in age, come to us from all 50 states and include impaired professionals such as pilots, physicians, nurses and law enforcement officers. Having a solid clinical foundation and a treatment philosophy rooted in accountability and personal responsibility, our next step was to obtain CARF accreditation. We are proud to state that in 2009 we achieved that milestone, placing us among other leading treatment facilities nationwide. Our journey through the accreditation process was an inspiring one, the importance of which I would like to share with you.

Need for oversight

Research indicates that no population remains unaffected from substance abuse. We need not search globally or even nationally for alarming addiction statistics-simply peeking into our own personal reality often brings us face to face with the horrors of addiction in one form or another. Many of us (I am no exception) are brushed, bruised or scathed by the ravages of this disease. Having said that, now more than ever, treatment facilities and programs are rising up on every corner quicker than coffee shops. More individuals are approaching the field of addiction treatment from an entrepreneurial perspective, seeing it as a lucrative business.

While this activity is explained in part by an increasing need to serve an expanding population, I have personally and professionally come to recognize the need for oversight by a bona fide accrediting body such as CARF, and the legitimacy that comes with accreditation. Not only is it preferable, it is fundamental to the continued provision of excellence in care for those we treat.

Organizations often think of accreditation as daunting, but as a CEO actively involved in the process from start to finish, I consider the golden seal of CARF to legitimize and give acceptance to a program. Additional factors to be considered are the merits of working for an accredited program, the confidence a consumer has in obtaining services from such a program, and the professional benefits to referring individuals to an accredited program.

CARF background

CARF (the name originally stood for the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities) was established in 1966 to serve as an international and independent nonprofit accreditor of human service providers. It accredits a number of health sectors that include behavioral health services (such as substance abuse), child and youth services, employment and community services, and medical rehabilitation. Data from indicate that CARF currently accredits more than 5,500 providers at more than 19,000 locations across five continents. This translates to approximately seven million individuals served annually by CARF-accredited providers.

CARF accreditation is a process that begins with a rigorous assessment and might take up to a year from initiation. It constitutes a thorough evaluation of not only the treatment program and services but also the facility as a whole from an operational and management standpoint. CARF-accredited programs are required to strive to continually monitor and implement changes that improve overall quality of services. Programs that meet the stringent accreditation standards are often those that payers favorably view as a better risk than non-accredited programs. Many insurance companies today are unwilling to accept treatment providers that are not accredited.

CARF surveyors are peers in the treatment field and do not act as the “treatment police,” but as consultants whose aim is to provide creative ideas and to promote quality, accountability and excellence in the provision of clinical services.

Important procedures

Steps toward accreditation are straightforward. For those organizations such as ours that pursue CARF accreditation, CARF has established conditions that must be satisfied in order to achieve the standard. For a minimum of six months, prior to the site visit, each service for which the organization is seeking accreditation must demonstrate the use and implementation of organizational and service standards applicable to the service. Also, the direct provision of services to the persons served must be exhibited. The organization will need to conduct a self-study and evaluation of its conformance to the standards using the CARF Standards Manual and its companion Survey Preparation Guide.

If working with CARF, an organization preparing for its first survey will be assigned a resource specialist to provide guidance from the onset. The resource specialist is available to answer questions in survey preparation and throughout the accreditation process. The specialist will provide the organization with access to CARF's secure Web site for transmitting documents and maintaining ongoing communication.