One message was clear at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD) plenary session on ethics: If you want to be held accountable, post your code of ethics on your treatment center's website.
The session was held Aug. 23 at the Union Station Hotel in St. Louis.
Addiction Professional Editor Gary Enos moderated the session made of of three panelists: David Lisonbee, CEO/president of Twin Town Treatment Centers; Michael Walsh, CEO/president of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP); and Bob Ferguson, director and founder of the Jaywalker Lodge.
The panelists were asked a series of questions regarding ethics standards. Below is a recap of the questions and their answers.
Question: Give us your perspectives on ethics in our field today.
Bob Ferguson: There's a lot going on here. From NAATP's perspective our ethics committee is focused on bringing our policies into 21st century. We're taking a look at things like deceptive internet ads and marketing and how people are exploiting patient privacy for promotional purposes. And we have people asking, well, how are you going to enforce this? At NAATP, the board's position was to take a role of leadership through education. I hope that we can all work more collaboratively for our patients instead of taking a more punitive approach.
Michael Walsh: It's hard to wake up every day and put our best foot forward and not get paid what we see the people on TV making day after day. But this is a passion for me. There's an opportunity to make a real difference. NAATP is about education, and we want to have this conversation.
We've become an industry where anything goes, and it's infuriating. That needs to change. If we don't make each other better, this industry is set up to have a collapse.
David Lisonbee: All of the people working with me early on really cared for their patients, but they also listened to the dollar. If we don't patrol ourselves, there are plenty of other folks who will patrol for us.
So how can we do that? Let's start with trust. Do we have trust with our clients? The community? The payers? Without it, we have to shut our doors.
Q: Summarize the key problems highlighted with ethics.
Walsh: Every year, our industry is open to a grey area. But there is no grey area. It's either black or white, jail or no jail. The key issues I see right now are the patient programs, the insurance game and untruthful advertising.
Ferguson: There are two things that are very empowering for the patient: the Internet and insurance. The Internet has the ability to be this powerful wealth of information that could be very helpful, but a lot of times, the information is misleading.
Providers are getting paid and reimbursed, and they're finding low-hanging, rotten fruit to go after. Entire business models are constructed around a house of cards, and it's always been my belief that if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. It's like the Wild West out there and we need to reorder what is acceptable conduct.
Lisonbee: A lot of smaller treatment facilities send their billing to a third-party vendor who knows how to do it. And then they don't feel like they are responsible for how that third-party handles their billing. The the fact is that they are. It comes down to a sense of personal responsibility for what we're doing and not taking the easy way out.
Q: Is there a common set of ethical standards you think this field could use?
Ferguson: When it comes to guidelines, we get into the question of enforcement. We have to have a conversation about this before we can enforce anything.
Walsh: I was taught to hold myself to a standard where you don't get close to that grey line. People are waiting to (knock) you when you get there. We've got people depending on this system being in place so we can help their loved ones.
Lisonbee: I'd like to challenge everyone to post your ethical guidelines on your website. I'm trying to set Twin Town apart from other treatment centers in California by doing this and it's saying, "if you want to trust someone, trust us." If my standards are up on my site, I follow them. If I don't, I can be held accountable.
Ferguson: Brand your program around your ethics guidelines. It's a competitive brand differentiator and I'm willing to be held accountable.
For live coverage of NCAD and the Behavioral Healthcare Leadership Summit, follow @NCADcon on Twitter.