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RCA's initial branding will occur at existing center in New Jersey

February 22, 2016
by Gary A. Enos. Contributing Editor
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The launch of operations for the much-watched Recovery Centers of America (RCA) will now take place on March 1, but unexpectedly the initial startup will occur not at a newly designed addiction treatment facility but through an acquisition.

RCA chief clinical officer Deni Carise tells Behavioral Healthcare that the Northeast and Middle Atlantic treatment organization will officially take over operations of New Jersey-based Lighthouse next week. Located about 50 minutes outside of Philadelphia, Lighthouse operates a residential addiction treatment program in Mays Landing and four satellite outpatient sites. From a continuum of care standpoint, then, “This is fitting with our model,” says Carise.

She adds in regard to RCA's decision to expand into acquiring existing centers, “When people heard what we were doing we started getting a significant number of calls.” The goal is to play a leading role in getting large numbers of individuals into recovery as soon as possible, so acquisition now becomes a logical extension of the company's overall strategy to become an Eastern presence where services will be available closer to where the region's population resides.

New operations for the company that was initially branded in 2014 still are expected to debut this year, although the dates have been pushed back some from what RCA indicated last December when it announced a $231.5 million financing commitment from a New York-based healthcare investment firm. Carise says the new Bracebridge Hall facility in Earleville, Md., is now scheduled to open in July rather than May, and a center in Danvers, Mass., is slated to open in August.

Building on therapeutic alliance

Besides its continuum of residential and outpatient services, Lighthouse has built a strong therapeutic alliance with patients that served as a strong selling point to RCA, says Carise.

“They are really good at connecting with patients,” she says. “That is a great place to start.”

What RCA will work to nurture is a more extensive menu of evidence-based practices in the facility, as well as attention to offering each patient some level of service over a period extending a full year. Lighthouse already features a multidimensional approach to treatment that also includes some medication-assisted treatment (including the recent introduction of buprenorphine maintenance) and specialized services for adolescents (including a full-time school).

Carise says the experience at Lighthouse will help RCA to test a concept emphasizing some level of patient choice in the topics they will address in treatment, with options that extend well beyond exploring the dynamics of their illness.

“We want to look at what we're providing to people who may have been in treatment five or six times, so they're not getting the same thing,” she says. “We don't want people saying, 'I could do this seminar myself—I've heard it a hundred times.'”

Some workshops at Lighthouse and RCA's other facilities will focus on growth- and strengths-based topics such as leadership, self-confidence and creative problem-solving. Some will be tailored to specific patient groups, such as lessons on debt management or job-seeking skills for young adults.

“To get into good recovery, you have to have a life that you think is worth living,” says Carise. “We have to ask patients, 'Who do you want to be?'”

Bed capacity

RCA will take over Lighthouse, now to be called Recovery Centers of America at Lighthouse, with a capacity of 34 detox and residential rehab beds. Plans will be to expand that capacity to 53 within a matter of a couple of weeks, Carise says.

The good-sized spread between March and the summer dates of the Maryland and Massachusetts openings is intentional, Carise indicates. “I want to get the model up and running before we keep replicating it,” she says.

2015 admittedly constituted a rocky year at times for the company, which has seen significant community opposition to its development plans in some communities. CEO Brian O'Neill is a prominent real estate developer whose reputation was built on transforming decaying sites into vibrant commercial and residential communities. Carise says RCA has chosen to walk away from two facility construction plans in New Jersey and Massachusetts and is pursuing litigation in another zoning dispute.

“This is very sad, because those locations have been just as hard hit [by the drug crisis] as other communities,” she says. RCA wants to establish around a dozen treatment sites from northern New England to the Washington. D.C., area.

RCA facilities will not be bound to a predetermined length of stay, says Carise. She adds at the same time, “We are going to be very heavily insurance-based,” with both in-network and out-of-network arrangements. She believes a modest cost structure, but one that still offers comfortable, recovery-friendly accommodations that are a high priority in O'Neill's vision of what addiction treatment should look like, will prove attractive to private payers.

A major emphasis in the design and evolution of the RCA model will involve strategizing on how best to keep patients engaged for a full year, likely at multiple levels of care. In that regard, Carise says RCA is revising site plans to see if it can accommodate extended recovery housing at the same campus sites where more intensive levels of service are provided, within the bounds of what states' licensing rules will allow.

“There would be a huge benefit of being able to stay on site even when you're not in full residential,” Carise says.

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