Many behavioral healthcare organizations have fought the good fight to bring services to communities that need them. But as the industry grows to meet ongoing demand, more operators today are facing “not in my back yard” (NIMBY) issues within the very communities they are trying to serve.
Sovereign Health, which has nine facilities in five states, has created an online editorial series that aims to shed light on the perceptions and realities surrounding NIMBY. In part, the series offers research on the San Clemente, Calif., community and its behavioral health service needs—a locality that has pushed back against Sovereign Health.
“San Clemente is a hotbed of NIMBY activities, and part of the reason we created this series is because the media has done a miserable job of covering the issue,” says Jamie Deans, senior director of communications. “They cover a town hall or city council meeting where you see neighbors who protest having the [sober living] houses in their neighborhoods. And the city council does nothing to educate the citizenry about licensure and other regulatory issues for community-based care.”
Deans cites the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which protect the rights of people who have completed or are enrolled in a treatment program. However, some local governments nonetheless have imposed strict zoning regulations on community-based housing that violate those laws.
He says protestors are taking out their fears on treatment center operators who are trying to help the communities address behavioral health issues. One of the irrational fears is that a nearby treatment center would have a negative effect on neighbors’ property values, he says. But Sovereign research found that there is no correlation between property values and locations of treatment centers.
Additionally, Deans says another goal of the series is to encourage local leaders to adopt a good neighbor policy and work in conjunction with treatment centers on improving the community. The alternative is to fight NIMBY battles in court, which is costly for the treatment center as well as the taxpayers.
“There’s a financial impact on us if we have to spend money on a legal case and challenge it when we’re already operating within the laws and regulations,” Deans says. “It’s not money well spent by us. We’d rather spend the money on treatment services.”
Deans cautions that all behavioral health providers must operate above board by obtaining appropriate licensing and should communicate their roles in the community. If change is needed, citizens should approach lawmakers to regulate the changes, rather than post signs and push away service providers—especially when the need for service is so great.
“This is something the industry needs to stand up and talk about, but nobody wants to,” he says.
Read the series here.