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Partnerships, membership growth among the items on new NAATP CEO's agenda

April 4, 2011
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Carpenter-Palumbo sees opportunities for innovation in health reform era

In a wide-ranging interview last week, the newly appointed president and CEO of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) referred back to her efforts as a state substance abuse agency director to offer clues as to her approach to her new job.
“We took some risks at OASAS, because we were New York,” said Karen Carpenter-Palumbo, referring to her four-year tenure as commissioner of the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services in the Spitzer and Paterson administrations.

“We not only put addiction back on the map, but we led the country on some initiatives,” said Carpenter-Palumbo, specifically citing areas such as emphasizing prevention initiatives and making New York treatment facilities tobacco-free. “We have to look at NAATP in the same way.”

And as Carpenter-Palumbo assumes the leadership role at NAATP this week, she says she is joining an organization poised to move beyond a difficult period in 2010 in which longtime CEO Ronald J. Hunsicker departed in the wake of financial improprieties in running the organization.

“I interviewed them as they did me,” Carpenter-Palumbo said of association leaders. “They did the best they could in a difficult situation. NAATP will come back even better.”

Opportunities for professionals

Carpenter-Palumbo said she is entering her new position at NAATP at an exciting time for treatment organizations and the professionals whom they employ. Although discussions around benefits structures and reimbursement in health reform still need to unfold, Carpenter-Palumbo prefers to emphasize the strides the treatment community already has made during recent years of advocacy for parity and health reform.

“There’s not a question now of if there should be a benefit, but what the benefit should be,” Carpenter-Palumbo said.

She says the association’s efforts will focus on ensuring that prevention, treatment and recovery are incorporated into the ongoing discussions of health reform and related issues. She sees numerous opportunities for innovation in the emerging era, making particular mention of peer counseling and peer case management as examples.

While Carpenter-Palumbo is well aware of the movement toward mergers and consolidations in the provider community, she also is mindful of the millions of individuals who still need care but have never accessed services. “There’s plenty to go around,” she said. “We have to present opportunities so that anyone has pathways to recovery available to them.”

This will require the presence of organizations with multiple competencies (well beyond traditional 30-day treatment alone) and attention to quality assurance and performance measurement—an area in which Carpenter-Palumbo says NAATP already has taken a leadership role.

Some of the mechanisms Carpenter-Palumbo intends to make use of in her new job include partnerships with other groups, such as the fellow state directors with whom she worked while at OASAS, as well as a more robust NAATP membership. “It is a personal goal of mine to grow the membership,” she said.

Carpenter-Palumbo is excited about the opportunity to stay in the addiction field, and with an organization that is committed to moving forward after managing a crisis. “Don’t think I didn’t ask many questions myself,” she said, given the experiences from which NAATP recently emerged.

For now, NAATP will maintain the Lancaster, Pa. office that Hunsicker had overseen. Carpenter-Palumbo indicated that she will continue to spend some time in New York as well, and that NAATP will explore establishing an office in Washington, D.C. “A presence there is very important,” she said.