Building a safety container in compliance work to support ethics | Behavioral Healthcare Executive Skip to content Skip to navigation

Building a safety container in compliance work to support ethics

August 14, 2018
by Maeve O'Neill, MEd, LCDC, LPC-S, CDWF
| Reprints

As we work to establish heart-focused compliance and ethics programs in all our behavioral health organizations, I believe we will see positive results/returns on investment in the industry. In my previous blog post, I encouraged us all to work toward heart-centered programs that truly prevent, find and fix issues. We can approach our daily work in ways that support a comprehensive compliance program that is effective and efficient in reducing risk and improving quality care. We must start with attention to building that container of safety much like we do with the patients we serve. When staff feel safe and supported to speak up, we will get better results.

With our patients, we create safety within the structure of the treatment program, daily schedule, program rules and expectations as well as clinical interventions. Establishing safety for our staff in a compliance program requires similar structure and processes that are consistently implemented. At Addiction Campuses, we have found that a good place to start is with an annual compliance plan that includes all elements suggested by the federal government. We then support the plan with oversight, useable policies and procedures, regular communication, ongoing education and training, monitoring and auditing, and finally, if needed, investigations and disciplinary action related to compliance or ethics concerns. These protocols all create the predictable actions and processes that contribute to a sense of safety.

We recently had a monthly call with all of our leads from one department, and I suggested we tape the calls in case anyone needs to miss one in the future. The response was quick and unanimous that they didn’t want to tape the call as these calls were a “safe place” for them to share, get ideas and provide support to each other. It is even a place they can admit to mistakes or not knowing what to do in certain situations. I was so impressed with their vulnerability to share and to demand such a safe place. When we allow our staff, even our most experienced and expert leaders, to be transparent and open, we create a place for learning and growth.

The truth is most of our staff come to our industry with personal and/or family of origin issues related to addiction and mental health which impact their true sense of safety. This requires us to work extra hard to create environments where they feel safe, perhaps for the first time, and practice safety culture elements on a daily basis. The personal and professional development that then occurs with our staff and within our teams has an enormous return on the investment. The organizational culture we are building based on our shared values and willingness to be vulnerable allows transformations to be evident in all areas of our work.

So, the challenge for all of us is to explore how safe our staff and cultures are and do a deep dive into what we can improve. Please share what you have found helpful in creating safety cultures and what lessons you have learned on your journey.


Maeve O’Neill, MEd, LCDC, LPC-S, CDWF, is vice president of compliance at Addiction Campuses.






The Treatment Center Executive & Marketing Retreat provides CEOs, CFOs, COOs, directors, senior marketing/business development/admissions leaders, and other executives with the tools they need to effectively and ethically grow their services in a rapidly changing market.

April 30-May 2, 2018 | Hilton Head, SC