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How addiction treatment providers can take a stand on ethics

November 17, 2014
by Bob Ferguson
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It was a modest proposal indeed. Posited as a suggestion from a fellow panelist on an ethics panel at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD) in St. Louis last August, the proposition was simple and direct, and seemed to hang in the air for a moment: “We finally just decided to write our own code of ethics, and then we posted it on our homepage for everyone to see.”

As a co-panelist, all I could think to utter in response was, “What a great idea. … It’s a good place to start.”

Each of us on the NCAD panel had summarized our respective views on “ethically questionable practices” in the addiction treatment field. In keeping with the session's stated focus, moderator Gary Enos from Addiction Professional had called on colleagues to address “dilemmas in organizational ethics,” and to identify “which current practices are the most problematic.” The composite sketch of the addiction treatment industry on display that day hung in the air like second-hand smoke. Deceptive and misleading Internet marketing practices. Payment for referrals. Insurance billing practices that are questionable at best, flirting with fraudulent. Not a pretty picture of our so-called profession.

The moderator then engaged the audience, which was made up of addiction treatment professionals from across the country. Some expressed their frustrations, providing anecdotes and illustrations that called our industry’s ethical challenges into even sharper relief. Others petitioned for stricter enforcement of ethical guidelines from membership organizations such as the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP), accrediting bodies such as JCAHO and CARF, and, of course, state licensing agencies as well. The overarching concern in the room was that in an era where huge profits are being claimed by a handful of providers willing to use deceptive tactics to prey on vulnerable families in crisis, it won’t be long before consumer confidence has eroded completely. At the end of the day, said one participant, “Are we not all painted with the same brush?”

That is why I was struck with the simplicity and humility of the suggestion from my fellow panelist, Twin Town Treatment Centers CEO David Lisonbee (he had originally heard the idea from a professional participating in a LinkedIn discussion of ethics in the treatment field). Why not, if only from the standpoint of brand differentiation, articulate our own set of ethical guidelines as individual treatment providers, and then post them on our websites?

And so, in response to this modest proposal is Jaywalker Lodge's first attempt to articulate and post our ethical guidelines. Like any imperfect and dynamic document, our “code" likely will evolve and expand over time, as we learn more about who we are and what we stand for in the context of our clients, our referents and our industry.

In the spirit of transparency, education and leadership—which are NAATP’s core principles—here is a brief sample of one treatment program’s Code of Ethics, posted on our website for all the world to see.


Jaywalker Code of Ethics

1. Jaywalker does not engage in any form of misleading or deceptive practices in its online marketing, public relations, advertising, or collateral promotional materials. Further, we will not participate as an advertiser on “funnel” websites, bogus treatment directory sites, or so-called "rehab reviews" which misrepresent their objectivity to users or readers.

2. Jaywalker Lodge does not make or receive any financial payment or remuneration for patient referrals. Further, Jaywalker does not support or refer to any other programs which engage in these practices.

3. We encourage clients, families and referents to visit our program in person in order to see our facilities up close and to experience the vitality and spirit of our community for themselves. Simply put: The closer you look, the better we look.

4. We do not admit clients who are not clinically appropriate for our milieu. We recognize the limitations of our model of care and we consistently refer clients and families who are not appropriate to other programs.

5. The decision to atypically discharge a client from our care is a clinical determination made solely on the basis of what is best for that client and for the community as a whole. Ultimately, we will always place the safety and well-being of our client community above the wants or needs of any individual within it.

6. We don't take money for services we don't provide. If a client is discharged from any program for any reason, the unused balance of that client's tuition is prorated and refunded. There is a $1,500 administrative fee for atypical, unscheduled, or early discharges.

7. We do not believe in a la carte pricing, add-ons or nickel-and-diming our guarantors. Fees for services are all-inclusive and always include greater, not less, value and services than advertised.

8. Jaywalker believes a community of sober men operates best in a culture of abundance. Good healthy food; clean and well-maintained vehicles; immaculate facilities. We treat our clients and their families with dignity and respect at all times.

9. At Jaywalker, marketing is fundamentally about providing exposure for our programs and services to families, professionals, and prospective clients. We strive to accurately convey the day-to-day activities of our treatment center. We do not contrive our brand, we reveal our community.




Good for you, Jaywalker. I couldn't agree more.

Hi Bobby,

What a great piece on ethics! I do hope that your lead is followed by others. Unfortunately, I fear that the ones who do follow will be the ones who think the way you do and will not be the ones that we are concerned about!