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University Park start-up aims for niche opportunities

August 14, 2017
by Julie Miller, Editor in Chief
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As the addiction treatment market continues to grow, organizations are finding more specialty niches where they can stand apart. For new start-up University Park Behavioral Health, the opportunity lies in the transitional space between detox and specialized treatment.

“I started to see trends in the industry around consumer demand for shorter residential lengths of stay, which coincided with payers’ comfort in paying for shorter lengths of stay,” Paul Auchterlonie, founder and CEO of University Park, tells Behavioral Healthcare Executive. “Also, our industry has not been very innovative around those trends or open-minded around individualized solutions in treatment planning.”

Auchterlonie sketched out an idea for a combined detox-plus-assessment model and shared it with a number of private equity investors to get their feedback. Their interest cued him that the model had business potential as well as clinical potential.

Individualized care model

On the clinical side, the emerging care model of University Park consists of traditional medical detox followed by—in the same facility—an intensive two-week assessment with psychiatrists, psychologists and masters-level clinicians. After the two weeks, the patient might be referred to a residential program, intensive outpatient or outpatient treatment, depending on what is most appropriate, Auchterlonie says.

What drives the clinical model is front-loading the assessment phase to help ensure better care throughout the treatment journey.

“I get frustrated with this field because we say we want to ‘meet people where they’re at,’ but we don’t know where they’re at, and we don’t know who they are because we don’t do enough evaluation at the front end,” he says.

University Park is taking the assessment process and expanding it beyond standardized tools and ASAM criteria for a deeper dive and more refined triage that occurs as a segue from detox. In fact, Auchterlonie believes that the detox-plus-assessment business model can thrive in a market that is otherwise driven by maximizing lengths of stay.

Platform deal

University Park launched earlier this year with a merger that restructured the existing Shadow Mountain organization and brought its properties under the University Park umbrella. At the same time, a few facilities were closed and three detox centers were created to support the detox-plus-assessment model. An additional acquisition of a residential facility in Austin, Texas, rounded out the initial portfolio.

Auchterlonie says the University Park umbrella currently consists of:

  1. Three detox-plus-assessment centers (Colorado Springs, Colo.; Albuquerque, N.M.; and St. George, Utah)
  2. Two Shadow Mountain gender-specific residential facilities (Pike’s Peak, Colo.; and Taos, N.M.)
  3. Ripple Ranch Recovery, a non-12-Step residential facility for men and women (Austin, Texas)

Headquarters will be located near Austin, where Auchterlonie aims to grow the admissions and marketing teams and launch more detox-plus-assessment centers over time. He says there are no plans to acquire additional residential programs right now.

“We’re building a track record under a new name and new leadership with an appropriate profit-and-loss balance sheet so we’re in a position to fund some of our own growth but also to get outside investors to go bigger on a national scale,” he says.

In time, a fourth division would offer a nuanced detox-plus program for individuals who are beginning to feel dependent on prescription medications but don’t see themselves as addicted per se. The model would aim for medical assistance and restoration of healthy living.

“They don’t identify as ‘drug addicts,’ and candidly, they’re not,” Auchterlonie says. “They’re not in ‘denial,’ and they don’t want what we typically have had to offer as an industry.”

He believes the medical services division—slated to launch in 2018—would make inroads in the nation’s opioid crisis, treating a large population of patients with unmet needs.