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NAATP panel: Need to monitor ethics remains as great as ever

May 18, 2016
by Gary Enos
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Comments during a panel session on organizational ethics at this week's National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) conference suggest that the problems that convinced the association to strengthen its monitoring of members' practices have not vanished by any means.

Panelist Richard Pine, president and CEO of Livengrin Foundation in Pennsylvania, recounted the vast number of out-of-state facility contacts that popped up when he conducted a recent Google search for addiction treatment in Livengrin's home community of Bensalem, Pa. By comparison, similar searches for specialists in medical disciplines uncovered only local contacts, he said, while searches for mental health treatment turned up some of the same addiction treatment contacts that would lure prospective customers to far-flung places for care.

“If we really want to be, and be treated, as part of the medical establishment...why don't we as a field not only all act that way, but also demand that everyone else act that way too?” Pine said.

The May 17 panel session at the NAATP conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., updated association members on NAATP's code of ethics and its recently adopted policy for reporting and investigating ethics complaints about a member organization. NAATP Executive Director Marvin Ventrell explained the reasoning behind the association's decision to subject documented violators of the code to possible expulsion from the organization.

“The point is not to kick people out,” Ventrell said. “The point is to bring people in, and to define a better way of doing business.”

He added with regard to the effects of the complaint process's presence so far: “Complaints are coming in. We have several.”

Ethical behavior pays

Several panelists sought to emphasize that committing to ethical management practices should not result in taking a financial hit. Bob Ferguson, a member of NAATP's ethics committee and the founder and director of Jaywalker Lodge in Colorado, believes his facility actually benefits when a competitor engages in marketing that emphasizes style over substance. He is seeing the emergence of a more educated consumer.

“What ratchets up people's anxiey is fear of the unknown,” Ferguson said.

Gina Thorne, vice president of marketing at Lakeview Health in northern Florida, offered a moving account of the facility's transformation in marketing strategy after its 2013 sale to a private equity firm. Thorne said it took Lakeview many months to overcome a reputation that had been forged by “black hat” marketing strategies that in 2011 landed the center a Google penalty that in turned caused a 90% drop in web traffic.

“We had to work a recovery program,” Thorne said. That involved shutting down microsites that had used deceptive tactics to lure out-of-state patients, she said, as well as making amends when a misstep occurred after the changes had been made.

“We removed the philosophy of 'numbers at any cost,'” Thorne said.

Other panelists suggested that too many other facilities maintain that approach, however. The CEO who chairs NAATP's ethics committee says he is seeing a repeat of fraudulent practices that plagued the field in the 1990s.

“The new generation seems to be able to rationalize things that are clearly wrong,” mainly by using a “Robin Hood” defense of helping the needy patient and family, said Art VanDivier, executive director of La Hacienda Treatment Center in Texas.

Participants in the conference session appeared to embrace the idea that providers should shine a light on the egregious abuses of ethical principles that they see. Some lamented, however, that the organizations that might benefit the most from attending a session on ethics were likely absent.

“I'm done writing these folks off, but I'm not done calling these folks out,” said Ben Cort, business development manager at CeDAR in Colorado.