Once again, this year’s “Sober Home” legislative initiative failed to make its way to the Governor’s desk for signature. But, unlike previous years, it was a close race right up to the wire. Though Senate Bill 582 & House Bill 479 entered their respective chambers as identical legislation, HB 479 was entirely rewritten from top to bottom by the time it made its way out of Representative Gail Harrell’s Healthy Families Subcommittee. The bill was transformed from requiring mandatory registration of all sober home transitional living programs, their owners and locations into a voluntary, self-regulatory approach consistent with that suggested by the Florida Association of Recovery Residences (FARR). Under the revised version, HB 479 called on DCF to outsource certification to an independent, non-profit organization who holds Recovery Residences accountable to a nationally recognized set of standards. This version was passed by the House and sent to the Senate where, unfortunately, its companion bill 582, died in the Appropriations committee before an opportunity to reconcile the profound differences between these two legislative initiatives could be negotiated.
Despite the many differences, one notable similarity present in both bills was a date specific for when it would become a first degree misdemeanor for a licensed Florida treatment provider to make a referral to a non-certified residence. While FARR recognizes that there are those who believe government regulation is necessary to force compliance with this consumer protection, it has long been our position that the substance abuse treatment community wants to support certified residences. Don’t the vast majority already agree that case managers, therapists and discharge planners should restrict referrals to certified residences? Why do we need the threat of a misdemeanor violation to compel us to do what is in the best interest of the client and the industry as a whole? Isn’t the real challenge center around the number of certified beds? It’s a chicken versus egg dilemma. The availability of certified beds must increase to match the demand before treatment providers can fully embrace this practice.
Caron Renaissance, and a handful of others, have actively encouraged recovery residences to seek FARR Certification for some time now. Their message has been consistent: “Get organized and hold yourselves accountable to these national standards or the state is going to do it for you.” To be clear; if at the time we enter the next legislative session, FARR does not represent the majority of Florida transitional housing providers, our argument in favor of voluntary self-regulation will fall on deaf ears. The community needs to begin asking those who market themselves to treatment providers “Are your FARR Certified?” and to set a date specific for when FARR Certification will be a requirement for referral consideration. FARR recommends adoption of July 1, 2015 as was proposed by HB 479. Provided housing providers act now and not procrastinate further, this provides sufficient time to get the job done and demonstrate to law-makers that our industry is motivated to clean house without further threat of punitive action.
Having travelled extensively throughout the state to meet with hundreds of owner/operators, it is my personal assessment that most transitional housing providers want to do “the right thing”. Many of these request education and training to help them better achieve that goal. “Best Practices” content, appropriately tailored to represent NARR Support Levels 1-4, must be developed and made available to all who wish to take advantage of this training. This too requires funding from outside the recovery residence sector. Our substance abuse treatment community can help fund this vision by simply joining FARR as a Partner in Excellence. Frankly, this should be a relatively easy “sell”. All Partner in Excellence members receive a listing on the FARR site that includes a link to their website as well as a 300 word bio on the merits of their program. While we encourage a higher level of participation matching that of Archstone Recovery Center (Silver), Caron-Hanley Treatment Centers (Platinum), Delray Recovery Center (Silver) and Wellington Retreat (Silver), if all the licensed treatment providers located in Palm Beach County alone were to join FARR as Partners in Excellence at the Bronze entry level for just $500.00 annually, FARR would have sufficient funds to carry out its mission for the next twelve months without financial constraint.The FARR Partner in Excellence program centers on this imperative as well as the need for the treatment community to help finance our mission. Many rely on the integrity of FARR Certification. This integrity requires that we conduct impromptu, unscheduled “audit inspections” in addition to our initial and annual visits. The annual budget for these audit inspections exceeds $50,000; funds that must be sourced from outside the recovery residence community.
At every conference I attend, treatment professionals approach me and commend FARR for taking on this much needed, long over-due task of organizing and certifying the transitional housing sector to a set of nationally recognized standards. Frequently, they make the statement: “Please let us know if there’s anything we can do to help. We really believe in what you’re doing.”
Please allow me to answer this by replying:
- Join FARR now as a Partner in Excellence:
- Bronze – $500
- Silver – $1,000
- Gold – $2,500
- Platinum – $5,000
- Encourage staff to actively participate on one of our six volunteer committees and help shape the future of transitional housing in the Florida.
- Encourage all Recovery Residences who market themselves to your program to seek FARR Certification immediately in order to become eligible and/or continue to receive referrals from your organization.
FARR was born to fulfill a specific mission: protect the right of residents to enjoy transitional living environments certified to meet this criteria:
- safe, clean and dignified
- alcohol and drug free
- peer supportive
- deliver the support level appropriate to their individual need
FARR publishes 48 standards and a comprehensive code of ethics to help guide and inform the process of making good on these promises. Let’s demonstrate our collective commitment to those we serve by stepping out of the shadows and unifying under the FARR umbrella before we are forced to do so by those few, but persistent politicians who are less interested in consumer protection than they are in quieting the NIMBY voices who continue to clamor for our removal from their neighborhoods.