After eight years of leading Phoenix House, president and CEO Howard Meitiner announced that he is turning in his keys. He led the turnaround of the Phoenix House New York Region as a consultant prior to becoming CEO.
Meitiner says lately he has been working toward finding strategic partners for the not-for-profit Phoenix House. With programs in nine states and the District of Columbia, the organization’s aim now is to stay on pace to grow the $150 million business through mergers and acquisitions.
“The journey we’ve been on these past eight years has been the professionalizing of the organization in an era when there’s much more complexity,” Meitiner tells Behavioral Healthcare. “One big accomplishment has been moving us into a new era of technology, not just in adopting EHR systems, but also in terms of social media and other technology.”
He says, for example, social media has transformed the organization’s outreach to potential clients who need services. For the first time, there’s a direct link that can engage consumers where they’re at. He dedicated an entire team to the digital channels. Under his watch, Phoenix House also redesigned its website—more than once—to optimize it for site visitors as the digital technology changed over the years.
“It’s important in search engine optimization so people can find us online to find services,” he says. “That’s had huge impact.”
Up next for Meitiner is the possibility of consulting with organizations that focus on humanitarian efforts, he says. With more than 35 years of global business and retail experience, he wants to do work that would help people in some way, although he doesn’t have a specific position pinned down just yet.
He says the next president and CEO of Phoenix House will face industry challenges but also will have an opportunity to continue the organization’s evolution from its origins in substance-use disorders to a larger provider of whole-health services. Meitiner says right now two-thirds of Phoenix House clients have co-occurring mental health issues, and the clinical teams are also treating clients’ heart disease, hepatitis and other chronic diseases.
“Phoenix House needs an outstanding leader with executive experience in healthcare who could help develop or run an integrated healthcare system,” he says. “We need to evolve into more of a behavioral health organization with integration into mental health and medical care.”
The organization and its 1,800 employees provided 170,000 outpatient visits and 1.3 million residential treatment days in 2013.
Changing face of treatment
Big picture healthcare trends also drove changes to Phoenix House’s strategy during Meitiner’s tenure.
“The Affordable Care Act has heralded an era of managed care,” he says. “You’re having to make sure you can justify the need for the services you are providing through a third party entity that wants to make sure the services are necessary for their clients. There is more oversight, and as a consequence, there is improvement in the quality of care that comes from that.”
For example, he says, a treatment program in the past might have been delivered over 12 months, but today, the limitations of managed care might whittle the timeframe down to 30 days. Therefore, the content delivered in 30 days must be more intense, which changes the therapeutic approach.
“If you have 30 days, make sure that every day clients get great stuff delivered to them in their ongoing recovery,” Meitiner says.
But for the industry at large, Meitiner says, recruiting and retaining a solid work force will be the critical challenge. Especially now that Medicaid rolls are expanding and expectations of payers are higher than ever, there is an increasing premium on counselors, clinicians and program directors who can deliver effective, quality care.
“We’re going to have to pay competitively to attract those people,” he says. “You can’t expect people who have to work in very stressful situations to do so at low wages. Medicaid rates and contract rates need to be able to allow providers to attract the type and quality of people you would want treating your own loved ones.”