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RAISING OUR UMBRELLA

August 1, 2007
by Ronald J. Hunsicker, DMin
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It's time for our many associations to unite under an umbrella organization

In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the fourth definition of umbrella is “something which covers or embraces a broad range of elements or factors <decided to expand…by building new colleges under a federation umbrella…>.” An umbrella organization, commonly referred to as a federation, confederation, or society, allows for diverse organizations under the umbrella to retain their individual identities; at the same time, the umbrella organization represents the diverse organizations on large issues that impact them all.

There are numerous umbrella organizations, and identifying a few may help us crystallize our understanding, and perhaps use, of this concept. The Federation of International Trade Associations fosters international trade by strengthening the role of more than 450 local, regional, and national associations throughout the United States, Mexico, and Canada. The AFL-CIO is the largest federation of unions in the United States, made up of 55 national and international unions (including Canadian), together representing more than 10 million workers.

Another widely recognized umbrella organization is the International Olympic Committee, which represents International Sports Federations (IFs), nongovernmental organizations administering one or several sports at the world level and encompassing organizations administering the sports at the national level. The IFs' statutes, practices, and activities must conform to the Olympic Charter, but each IF maintains its independence and autonomy in the administration of its sports.

These examples suggest that the whole often is much stronger than the sum of its parts. People who share a disease and their families have formed umbrella organizations, but addiction treatment associations have lagged behind in raising their umbrella. Rather than trying to figure out why this is the case, I challenge my colleagues to seize the moment and commit energy and resources to create the “Federation of Addiction Treatment Provider Associations” or the “Society of Addiction Treatment Pro-vider Associations” or some similar umbrella organization.

An umbrella organization would shelter us as we build comprehensive educational programs for persons delivering addiction treatment, develop complex public-policy programs and public awareness campaigns, and ensure that research on addiction and its treatment is conducted, distributed, and used. The time has come to raise our umbrella!

We have carved the field into our own special interest groups. The National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP), the American Society of Addiction Medicine, NAADAC, and the State Associations of Addiction Services, to name a few, all represent some part of providing services to individuals with the disease of addiction. Advocacy groups such as the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Faces and Voices of Recovery, the Johnson Institute, and many others primarily focus on individuals with the disease of dependence and their families. All have played, and will continue to play, important roles in representing their special interests and their part of the whole. Yet imagine what could happen if we had our own umbrella organization! Imagine the possibilities if we all gave up just a little of our control and a small piece of our turf and allowed a federation, confederation, or society to emerge.

All of our associations have committed resources to public policy and public awareness; they all have committed resources to education, including conferences; and they all are committed to supporting research. So what if the umbrella organization took on these activities on behalf of all of us? I am sure that at some point the many local, regional, and national trade unions stood at the same place, asked the “what if” question, and responded with “let's do it!”

Here is the challenge: How do we take the first step to even test the waters with this idea? Here is the invitation: NAATP invites associations that would like to explore “raising the umbrella” to send their executive and one key board member to explore this idea in a meeting at the South East Conference on Addictive Diseases (SECAD) in Atlanta from November 28 to 30. NAATP will sweeten the invitation by offering complimentary registrations to executives and board members from associations interested in exploring this idea. (If you are interested, contact the NAATP office at 717-392-8480.)

Imagine our impact if we had a single voice representing all of us in the federal parity law discussion; imagine our impact if we had a single gathering each year at which we had the best education and information available for persons involved in addiction treatment and its administration. Maybe instead of imaging, we need to make it happen!

Ronald J. Hunsicker, DMin, is President and CEO of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers. He is also a member of Behavioral Healthcare's Editorial Board.

To contact Dr. Hunsicker, e-mail rhunsicker@naatp.org.

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