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Mass. report suggests training for recovery home operators

May 23, 2012
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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State agency proposes tying referrals to participation in training

Amid numerous reports in recent years of substandard conditions at some Massachusetts recovery homes, as well as much-scrutinized business arrangements between some home operators and drug testing companies, community leaders had long been awaiting the details of a report on recovery homes from the state Bureau of Substance Abuse Services (BSAS).

The report finally was made public this month, and while it likely won’t satisfy those who simply would prefer to be rid of the homes’ presence in their communities, it did suggest an initiative that could help differentiate high-quality homes from laggards.

The report, which followed a directive from state legislators, proposes the creation of a voluntary training program for recovery home operators in the state, with two-year refresher courses built in. As an incentive to participate, the report states, the legislature could require that state agencies that refer individuals to the homes (such as the Department of Corrections) refer only to those residences where staff has undergone the training.
An impediment to implementing such an effort, as with many initiatives these days, is money.

“BSAS does not currently have the funding necessary to implement this program and it estimates the minimum annual cost of implementation of such a voluntary training program to be $242,103 to $257,625 per year based on the Bureau’s very modest estimation that 300 [alcohol and drug free] homes exist in Massachusetts that are eligible to participate in this training,” the report states.

In fact, an inability to quantify the extent of recovery homes’ presence in Massachusetts is a theme woven frequently into the Bureau’s report. The state agency in 2007 invited nearly 200 recovery home operators to a meeting called in order to discuss concerns expressed by legislators and local communities, and also distributed written surveys to get a better handle on the services (if any) being offered at the homes. The response: About 27 home operators attended the meeting, and 18 surveys were completed.

BSAS says in the new report that what it has been able to investigate indicates that no recovery home operators are offering treatment services that would necessitate licensure of the operations by the state. Because these homes generally offer housing services with perhaps some case management, federal fair housing protections bar states and local communities from imposing discriminatory regulations on the operators of these businesses.

The report also examined the issue of complaints about Massachusetts recovery homes over issues related to noise, housing conditions, and substance use on the property. The Bureau concluded that “the majority of complaints are in reference to only a few [alcohol and drug free] homes relative to the number of homes that exist in the Commonwealth.” The Bureau added, “Overall, despite the large number of [alcohol and drug free] houses in the Commonwealth, there appears to be few major problems that need addressing.”

One topic that the report surprisingly did not cover involves the prevalence of Medicaid fraud cases that Massachusetts prosecutors have initiated over alleged kickback arrangements between sober home operators and drug testing companies. This has been a prominent issue for some community members who would like to see more oversight of the homes, or at least a concerted effort to distinguish high-quality operators from less scrupulous entities.