Advanced Recovery Systems (ARS) is a few months away from opening a dedicated residential center outside of Washington, D.C., specifically designed to treat fire fighters and paramedics. It’s a unique move considering that treatment programs for first responders typically are delivered as a track within a larger program that serves other populations. According to ARS, the new center will be the first of its kind.
“Right now, fire fighters are getting treatment at various substance and alcohol treatment facilities throughout the country, and there is no coordination of that,” Lewis Gold, MD, chairman of ARS, tells Behavioral Healthcare. “This center is going to open up with 70 beds, and the idea here is to expand if this is successful—and we think it certainly will be—to place centers across the country to treat fire fighters exclusively.”
ARS partnered with the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) to strategize everything from the programming to the interior design to the facility features to ensure sensitivity to the needs of the population. IAFF represents 302,000 fire fighters and paramedics and has estimated that 20% of these professionals encounter post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and co-occurring clinical conditions, such as depression, anxiety and substance use disorder.
Continuum of care
The new IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery will provide diagnosis, peer counseling and treatment, including the continuum of care from detox to outpatient, Gold says. Located on a 15-acre campus, the IAFF Center will include a gym and common areas that resemble the familiar look and feel of firehouses where the professionals spend their long hours on duty. For example, the architecture includes brick building materials, and the interior spaces will include IAFF logos and a ceremonial fire bell.
“If I’m a fire fighter and I have issues, I’d rather be surrounded by all fire fighters than in a center where I’m the only one,” Gold says.
ARS will become the endorsed provider for IAFF with no financial exchanges, but Gold says ARS is working to secure in-network status with the various insurers that cover the fire fighter employee population.
“The demand is going to be extraordinary,” he says. “In years prior, PTSD was recognized in fire fighters, but they were not seeking treatment because programs were punitive. IAFF, to their credit, did not want to have a punishing situation, they wanted to have a rehab situation.”
Gold says ARS is fairly new to SUD treatment delivery, and the IAFF Center will be its seventh location built from scratch. Another fire fighter center could be on the drawing board as soon as six months from now.
The clinical program will be led by Craig L. Katz, MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Mount Sinai in New York, who is a known PTSD expert and who designed a program for first responders in the aftermath of 9/11. In addition, the IAFF Center will train peer support members on the unique challenges in the treatment of PTSD and substance abuse in the firefighter population, with the ultimate goal of developing needed protocols for fire departments in the future.
Watch a video about the IAFF decision to address PTSD here.