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Behavioral Healthcare Champion: Bob Ferguson

July 19, 2016
by Julie Miller, Editor in Chief
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Bob Ferguson

Early recovery can be one of the most challenging times in a patient’s life, even for those who demonstrate excellent outcomes from treatment experiences. Bob Ferguson, director of Jaywalker Lodge, created his business and clinical model to address the unique needs of those in early recovery and those who have had multiple treatment episodes in their past.

“My early recovery lasted 10 years,” Ferguson says. “That’s not uncommon. My treatment experience was wonderful, and I had patient caregivers and family that supported my second and third attempts.”

But not every individual has such support. That’s why Jaywalker Lodge in Carbondale, Colo., is differentiated by its specialized program for men who have ongoing challenges in recovery. A seasoned clinician who has held positions with several organizations and has visited hundreds of treatment centers, Ferguson says the Jaywalker model offers a shift from a “containment” approach within the treatment setting to an approach that emphasizes living an engaged life through community involvement.

“One frustration I experienced was that focus on containment where we don’t get out much, and we don’t leave the containers,” he says. “But there’s a huge upside to community engagement for men in early recovery.”

Avenues for new bonding experiences is one such upside. Ferguson knows that bonding among men is more likely to occur through activities than through structured group sessions that rely on verbal exchanges.

Working together on a service project to clean up a neighborhood after a natural disaster or to distribute food or supplies creates the right environment for men in recovery to establish trust among the group. It reframes the man’s world view, Ferguson says. Giving back in this way also creates a sense of pride, which can counterbalance the shame some men might feel in the recovery process.

“They are tired of screwing up, and they want to show you they can contribute,” Ferguson says.

Challenge becomes opportunity

The lodge was originally slated to open in 2005 in a ranch setting on rural land in Colorado, but local zoning issues nixed the project. Jaywalker instead opened its first 16 beds in a hybrid district in a downtown area. Ferguson says the open-community model seemed risky, but it was the only feasible option at the time. Strategically, he knew he had to win over the community by being a good corporate citizen as well as a good neighbor. He introduced himself door-to-door, provided his phone number and invited community members to visit the lodge. Meanwhile, he created codes of conduct for patients to guide them through expectations within the community.

The model has proven to be beneficial for the men he calls “Jaywalkers” and for the neighborhood as well. Jaywalker has since grown to 55 beds and now has three levels of care.

But with the growth comes higher expectations for the organization as a whole. For example, Ferguson has held out his business as an ethical treatment center that never engages in patient brokering or misleading marketing. In fact, Jaywalker Lodge has an ethics policy on its public website for consumers and referral sources. Ferguson says he sees it as a competitive advantage.

 “That means sometimes doing things that aren’t comfortable like giving a refund or referring to another program when a patient does not line up with your services in the best way,” he says.

But Ferguson says obviously no treatment center operator gets out of bed in the morning with the intent to do harm to patients. His advice to other executives is to be authentic.

“A lot of what we are alarmed by in the industry can be rectified by alignment in the messages we preach to our clients about having a moral compass and how we operate our businesses,” he says. “We need to walk our talk.”