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2009 Behavioral Health Champion: David W. Hillis, FACHE, FACATA

November 1, 2009
by Dennis Grantham, Editor-in-Chief
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Position: President and CEO

Organization: AdCare Hospital of Worcester, Inc.

Location: Worcester, Massachusetts (http://www.adcare.com)

Service Area: Worcester, Massachusetts, with six outpatient clinics in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Serving New England and New York.

Services: Full range of inpatient (medically managed detox, medically monitored detox, medically managed rehabilitation, medically monitored residential) and outpatient addiction treatment services (observation, ambulatory detox, intensive outpatient treatment, outpatient counseling services) as well as corrections services.

Staff: 456

“Some kids grew up as Army brats. I was a hospital brat,” jokes David Hillis, recalling a childhood spent with his father, an administrator at a 100-bed, not-for-profit hospital. In 1968, Hillis was named CFO at Doctors Hospital, a privately-owned, 180-bed for-profit hospital in Worcester where he became CEO in 1974.

“My dad and I were peers for about 15 years,” he recalls. But their lives as administrators differed a great deal. “Dad had to work with a community board. By the time he taught every committee what it needed to know, the board would be ready to change due to term limits.” Hillis found that his small, for-profit management group could make decisions “incredibly fast.”

Such speed proved essential in the evolution and survival of the hospital. “When I started as CEO, there were eight hospitals in Worcester-all struggling to diversify-and now there are two.” During the ‘70s, Hillis saw that “addiction treatment programs were springing up everywhere,” but that “non-healthcare” people were leading them. Why? “Healthcare is dominated by medical/surgical people, with rules that were very different from those of early recovery programs,” says Hillis. That approach just wasn't fast enough to keep pace with the rapid evolution of addiction treatment from long lengths of stay covered by health insurance. He says that AdCare's key to success was to “move quickly, but keep our medical capabilities with us.”

In 1976, the hospital “converted 10 beds to alcohol treatment, then 20, then 30,” he recalls, then added a new drug treatment program. “It was never our intention to ‘convert’ the hospital.” Yet, as demand for the hospital's addiction treatment services surged, he found that the hospital was being affected by “a very real stigma” about its growing addiction-treatment population. “It got so that our med-surg patients, in some cases, had to produce a surgical scar to prove they were not admitted for substance abuse.” By 1984, “we made a decision to convert all of our beds to substance abuse treatment.” Hillis suggested a new name, AdCare, with “a” for “alcohol” and “d” for “drug” preceding “care.”

True to its heritage, AdCare specializes in addiction treatment, yet remains a licensed, acute-care hospital. This unique blend of capabilities enables it to deliver substance abuse care to virtually any patient, even if they are medically compromised.

Behavioral Healthcare 2009 November-December;29(10):16

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