Recovery advocates who have sought to rid South Florida of unscrupulous sober home operators, but not to lose this important component of the continuum of addiction services altogether, celebrated what they consider a critical development last week. Federal, state and local authorities on Sept. 11 raided a recovery residence that the president of the Florida Association of Recovery Residences (FARR) considers the top violator of ethical standards among Palm Beach County sober homes, and advocates believe similar enforcement actions are around the corner.
“The whole thing is beginning to unravel,” says FARR president John Lehman, who has long advocated actions to distinguish between high- and low-quality providers of recovery support services in his community.
Last week's action against Good Decisions Sober Living in West Palm Beach was part of an investigation coordinated by Florida's insurance fraud division. FARR, along with anti-drug advocates and members of the South Florida treatment community, have been meeting with various government officials for months to call attention to widespread questionable insurance practices (often involving excessive billing for drug testing services) and incidences of patient brokering.
Lehman says the state's investigation has expanded to encompass both recovery residences and primary treatment centers. Last week's raid brought in agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and Lehman says that certainly has caught the attention of many other program operators.
“Employees and owners, particularly in the IOP group that's tapping into insurance benefits, are contacting authorities and asking, 'What do I need to do not to be next?' says Lehman.
Still, he believes other actions similar to last week's raid are likely imminent. Investigators last week seized numerous documents and computers from Good Decisions Sober Living, which Lehman says was operating at only about half of its prior capacity after the raid because many residents of the sober housing quickly decided to move out.
Numerous drug tests
Local news reports after the raid suggested that Good Decisions Sober Living was billing insurance for about $1,500 per drug test and testing each resident four times a week. Lehman says the organization operates its own testing lab and medical billing company, and he considers it the top violator of ethical standards in Palm Beach County's burgeoning community of sober homes.
“There wasn't anything bad they weren't doing,” Lehman says. “They were doing every single thing that is the antithesis of what FARR and [the National Association of Recovery Residences] is about.” He adds that at one point the organization was advertising free rent, gym memberships and transportation for would-be residents in early recovery. “Basically your insurance card was your American Express card,” Lehman says.
Local media outlets have stated that Good Decisions owner Ken Bailynson has been unavailable to reporters since last week.
Lehman's schedule at the beginning of this week illustrates the diverse reactions that occur over the discussion of South Florida's treatment and recovery residence market. In the span of a day, he was scheduled to meet with government officials who would like to see cities be able to reassert control over the siting of sober homes (this flies in the face of fair housing laws and is a constant source of worry for treatment and recovery advocates), followed by a meeting with a recovery residence operator concerned about how authorities might come to view its own practices.