There’s far too much distraction, misinformation and ‘Trojan Horse’ agenda muddling the waters of the public dialog concerning oversight of Recovery Residences. With help from the media, South Florida has become a hotbed of passionate discussion concerning bad operators cast as unscrupulous predators, intent on profiting off of the backs of a vulnerable population. With all the attention focused on this subject, anyone looking in from outside of the professional recovery community could easily draw the conclusion that these bad operators represent the lion’s share of recovery residences.
There’s no evidence to support that conclusion. There is, however, overwhelming evidence that solid, ethical operators serve a growing population of Floridians seeking recovery from addiction. FARR has now certified 26 programs operating 127 homes and is currently engaged in various stages of certification for an additional 122 homes throughout the state. Every one of these quality operators voluntarily sought our certification. While FARR has been forced to reject some applicants for failure to meet our standards, the vast majority of those who have applied to FARR for status as a Certified Residence were either already in compliance with our code of ethics and support standards or willing to make the necessary enhancements in order to qualify. Recovery Residences are a valuable community resource and Florida is home to some of the very best programs in the nation.
In fact, no evidence has been produced by the NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard) groups to factually support any problems with what SB 582 refers to as ‘sober homes’; lots of pompous chatter and rumor-mongering wrapped in rhetoric, but no evidence. On the other hand, FARR has aggressively advocated for collaborative action to address specific problems for which we do have evidence. Most of the real problems spill into the recovery residence world from substance abuse treatment providers currently licensed by the Department of Children & Family Services (DCF). Patient brokering, kickbacks and insurance fraud are rampant in certain areas, particularly in the South Florida corridor. FARR continues to seek support from law enforcement, the judicial system, local elected officials, state legislators, DCF, FADAA and quality service providers, who labor daily to support this disabled class of individuals in their effort to achieve freedom from addiction, to act in collaboration to resolve the real issues that require our collective attention. However, the NIMBY voices are the only ones that have captured the attention of Senator Jeff Clemens and House Representative Bill Hager. They aren’t interested in what the experts with experience have to contribute. Here’s our proof to back up that assertion.
Beginning in June 2013, DCF began to address the Senate Appropriations Committee proviso directing the department to answer five questions in reference to recovery residences. DCF invited FADAA (Florida Alcohol & Drug Addiction Association), FARR (Florida Association of Recovery Residences) and local government stakeholders to participate in this study over a period of six months. A team from DCF, including the Assistant Secretary of Substance Abuse and Mental Health and his immediate staff, travelled to South Florida to meet with local stakeholders including mayors, city attorneys, inspectors, citizens, recovery residence owners/operators and numerous leaders from the substance abuse treatment community. They toured a dozen FARR Certified Residences, heard from professionals who presented evidence regarding real issues and held a public hearing for testimony from concerned citizens and civic leaders. Upon returning to Tallahassee, this team conducted thorough research into the possibility of developing oversight over Florida’s recovery residences as well as how other states have chosen to manage this sector. DCF released a twenty-six (26) page report on October 1, 2013.
Remember that this report was commissioned by the Florida Senate. In that report, DCF clearly identified that a recovery residence is not a substance abuse treatment provider. A recovery residence is a home. It is a safe environment, free of alcohol and drugs, where persons in early recovery from addiction live and support one another. As such, the residence is protected under federal laws which have been repeatedly tested by NIMBY advocates who don’t want “those people living in our single family neighborhoods”and upheld by local and federal courts. The DCF report cites evidence-based studies demonstrating that NIMBY allegations of increased crime and decreased property values related to the presence of a recovery residence are unfounded. Further, the report recommends additional studies to determine what impact recovery residences, including their various structures, actually have on the outcomes for those in early recovery from addiction and on the communities in which they’re located. DCF concluded their report by stating they do not consider recovery residences to fall under their supervision as no clinical substance abuse treatment takes place within their confines.
The Senate orders a report from the agency most familiar with the issues. DCF publishes a report outlining why it does not consider itself an appropriate candidate to take on oversight of this sector. Then Senator Jeff Clemens and Representative Bill Hager launch bills in both houses that would have DCF be responsible for oversight regardless their expert opinion. Why? Because they are pandering to NIMBY voices are who are not in the least interested in protecting this disabled class. They want the state to take the bait. Once the state passes legislation that requires operators be in compliance with local zoning, then the state will be forced to participate in the resulting legal battles that are certain to follow in the months ahead. It’s fiscally irresponsible on their part and all the surrounding noise is simply camouflage for the intended purpose.
While this dysfunctional chaos continues to unveil itself in our capitol, FARR maintains a steady course. The FARR Advisory Board is actively engaged in efforts to bring a uniform code of ethics and standards to our industry. Quality operators are many, and they continue to stream to our organization voluntarily. They want to deliver excellence and most already do just that. Those who are relatively new service providers organically seek mentoring from the well-established leaders. The FARR Certification process is not a policing, but a mentoring effort. We help those who seek guidance to implement best practices within their organizations. We know what’s broken and what requires fixing. While we are not at all confident that we’ve got all the answers on how to fix some of the industry-wide problems we’ve identified, our lack of confidence hinges on the fact that there are numerous stakeholders who have yet to take an active role in enforcing existing laws. We would prefer for everyone to act in concert. The real problems extend far past the borders of our world out into clinical services and beyond. DCF already has oversight over substance abuse treatment providers and some of the worst abuses faced in South Palm Beach County originate from within the IOP (intensive outpatient) sector. In order to address these abuses, DCF needs a budget to support enforcement. Some of these licensed entities are the worst offenders, yet little is being done to stem the rising tide of insurance fraud and patient brokering that have become the norm because regional offices have been dramatically hamstrung due to cut backs in funding.
Some local elected officials and state legislators are simply capitalizing on the NIMBY cry to remove “those people” from our single family neighborhoods. The current legislation is wrapped in a consumer protection blanket, but the baby inside is NIMBY, pure and simple. However, there are local officials and state legislators who do recognize the need for the services provided by recovery residences. They get that recovery from addiction is a national problem impacting every local community and that FARR represents a pathway to enhance the services that fulfill those needs. FARR is a very real component of the solution and should be embraced by the communities we serve. Does anyone really believe that the addiction problem will be solved by eliminating the service providers who labor to help those willing to seek recovery? That’s as absurd as the suggested solution to safe discharge offered by SB 582 and HB 479 which would require a recovery residence operator to buy a two night stay in a motel room for those who were discharged due to active drug use. One such 501c3 operator pointed out that when the resident arrived at his front door, he was both homeless and jobless. The operator took him in, fed him and gave him an opportunity to engage in recovery oriented activities with his peers while seeking employment. Instead, the resident returned to active drug use and now this operator would be required to buy that active addict a motel room for 48 hours where he could continue his drug spree unimpeded by the challenges of homelessness? To people who are familiar with the real-world circumstances incumbent in the daily operations of a recovery residence, this seems insane.
FARR has very specific experience regarding safe discharge protocols, but we weren’t consulted. Senator Clemens and Representative Hager are not the least bit interested in our experience or our input on how best to proceed in establishing oversight over this market sector. This isn’t conjecture. Representative Hager looked me directly in the eye at the Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce Legislative Luncheon and said “if you’re not interested in helping me get them out of our single family neighborhoods then I’ve got no interest in meeting with you”. There was no mention of helping him to protect this vulnerable population. Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric; House Bill 479 and Senate Bill 582 are NIMBY all the way.
There are, however, consumer protection initiatives that remain urgent. That’s why FARR was born. FARR is all about protecting residents. That’s our primary mission. FARR is sensitive to public concerns and strongly advocates responsible civic and neighbor behaviors. We wouldn’t want active addicts living next door to us either. We require our certified residences to take specific measures to ensure that the residence remains alcohol and drug free. We accomplish this through the introduction of an ethical code of behavior and by holding our members accountable to a set of support standards adopted from the National Alliance of Recovery Residences. We attract voluntary compliance by promoting the value and integrity of our certification process to the referral sources who funnel residents to our certified residences. This course of action is working. More and more recovery residence operators are being asked by the substance abuse treatment providers to which they market themselves “Are you FARR certified?” Every week, another residence seeks certification due to this simple question. How long will it take for the bad operators to get “weeded out” by this process? Likely, one more year. By the end of 2015, Florida will no longer be known nationally as the Wild, Wild West. FARR is making a difference and we will continue to labor on behalf of residents, residences, and communities regardless of how we are embraced by our state and local government leaders. Still, imagine the possibilities if we were to all to work together in pursuit of these goals. Surely we can rise above our differences, act collaboratively and set an example for the rest of the country.