Starting A Drug Rehab. Can Anyone Do It?

Most Americans know someone with a drug or alcohol addiction, and many know someone who has lost or nearly lost a family member as a consequence of addiction.  As a result, many people are looking for ways to help.  One of those ways is to start providing rehab services to those suffering from an addiction.  But, can anyone do it?

Anyone can start a drug and alcohol rehab facility.  It’s an incredibly rewarding business that can even prove profitable.  But, it’s closely regulated and mistakes can have dire consequences, both for the business and a rehab’s clients and their families. So, only those truly committed and competent should start a drug rehab. 

If you’ve decided you want to start a drug or alcohol rehab, congratulations! There is a lot of work to do.  This article is provide you with an overview and an outline of the key considerations and issues you may face.  But, if you are committed and willing to put in the hard work, it’s a wonderful business to be in.  Welcome to the family!!

Drug Treatment Overview

According to the National Institutes of Health, drug use is on the rise in this country and over 23 million Americans are addicted to alcohol or drugs.  That’s nearly 1 in every 10 Americans over the age of 12 . . . roughly the size of Texas!  Incredibly, only about 10% of people with a substance use addiction receive any type of specialty treatment.  And, considering the market for drug, alcohol and other addiction services is estimated at $42 billion annually, there is plenty of opportunity for engaged, thoughtful, and effective treatment centers to enter the market and help close the “Treatment Gap.”

In determining how your drug rehab may differ from one of the already 15,000 treatment facilities, think about what your approach will be.  Will you run a large, all-encompassing treatment rehab that provides all levels of care?  Do you want to run a smaller, more intimate rehab?  Are you treating patients in a residential setting, or are you only providing services on an outpatient basis? Do you plan to specialize in a particular treatment delivery (for example, Telehealth), or focus on a particular method (like spiritual healing)?  Do you hope to serve clients only in your current location, or do you have plans to expand?  Essentially, you need to determine what your niche is and how you will differ from the other rehabs in the area.

Finding a Property for Your Drug Rehab

Once you’ve determined what type of rehab you’d like to open, including the levels of care and specialized services, you must select a property or a location in which to operate your drug rehab.  Selecting your property is almost as important as determining what treatment services you’re going to provide, but can only be done once you’ve determined your rehab model.

The settings for drug and alcohol rehab centers are as varied as the owners who run them.  Many inpatient treatment facilities are run out of larger homes that can accommodate 24/7 living for rehab clients.  Other outpatient facilities might be run out of standalone office buildings or in an office complex.  Even others are located in remote settings away from the hustle and bustle of a city.  Either way, you’ll want to make sure the location you select is properly zoned and there aren’t any local or municipal restrictions to operating in your chosen location.

Regardless of what level of services your rehab will provide, and whether you’re operating out of a house, an office, or a repurposed church, there are several key considerations, including how easy is it for your clients to get to your location (for example, is there a bus that serves the area) and is your facility warm and inviting?  Going to a rehab can be a very scary and unnerving experience.  You want your facility to convey professionalism, warmth, and security.

Financing Your Rehab Facility

An often overlooked and under appreciated topic when setting up a treatment center is how are you going to pay for everything?  Having a well thought out, realistic budget is as important as the first two topics: what levels of service you’re providing and where.  Underfunding or miscalculating the costs associated with starting and operating a rehab can often be the death knell of a drug and alcohol rehab.

Often times, the licensing process discussed below can take 6-12 months to complete, and you’ll have expenses throughout that time, including some staff, insurance, rent/mortgage, utilities, etc.  Most states require you to have those items in place well in advance of obtaining your license.  As such, you’ll need enough operating capital to run your business before you’re even licensed and can begin offering services.

Then, once you are licensed, are you prepared for the operational and marketing expenses it will take before your first revenue starts coming in?  If you’re expecting insurance companies to pay most of the costs associated with treatment, it can take months before those payments are received.

In light of the foregoing, it’s crucial that you are well-capitalized or have access to enough money (either through investors, bank loans, or other sources) to ensure that you can get your rehab licensed and operational.

Licensing Your Rehab. Are You Compliant (P&P, state licensure, etc.)?

In my opinion, this is the most important piece of the puzzle when starting a rehab, and while every founder pays attention to this section, they fail to properly understand and appreciate just how complex and important licensing and ongoing compliance are to the success of a rehab.  Every state is different in their licensing requirements, and some states (like Missouri) don’t have any noticeable requirements to operate a drug or alcohol rehab.  Nevertheless, every drug rehab needs a comprehensive set of policies and procedures . . . and, rehabs need to pay attention to these documents.

Often times, I see drug rehabs that are starting up and they either found a set of policies and procedures online or they purchased them from another facility or a consultant.  Do so at your own peril.  Policies and procedures are not necessarily universal and are typically unique to your own rehab, the services your providing, and the location in which you are operating.

Some states require very detailed documents and forms, while other states will only give your documents a cursory review.  But at some point, if something goes wrong at your drug rehab, a governmental agency or licensing body will investigate to see if you were operating in accordance with your policies and procedures.  And, if you bought a cookie cutter document, or if you don’t understand what’s in the policies and procedures, chances are, you’ll be operating in violation of one or more policy.  And, this is one of the fastest ways to have your otherwise successful drug rehab shut down.  Don’t let that happen to you.

Staffing Your Rehab

Once you have found your rehab and started the licensing process, you will need to find, hire, and train your staff.  Again, it depends on the type of rehab you intend to open, but you’ll need to consider who serve as the Executive Director, Clinical Director, Medical Director and Program Director.  Will you be providing medical services and do you need a medical staff?  What program staff will you have?  Case managers?  Peer support counselors?  What type of clerical and administrative staff will you need?

When selecting staff, your goal should be to employ individuals who share your vision for the rehab, are in alignment with your treatment vision, and have the same commitment to excellence and client success that you have.  Once you’ve identified those individuals and hired them, you’ll want to implement a systematic and effective training program, so that all of your staff can continue to progress and improve together.

Marketing Your Rehab

The most effective treatment in the most beautiful location with the most experience staff does not mean anything if you don’t have clients.  And, yes, there is a “treatment gap” where there are far more individuals who need treatment than are receiving it, but simply opening your doors does not ensure that people will find you or come to your drug rehab.  A strong and strategic marketing plan is a must for the success of any drug rehab facility.

A few things to consider in this arena:

  • Do you have a brand and a logo? How are you boosting your brand?
  • What type of marketing will you engage in?
    • Social Media – Do you have a robust social media presence?
    • Digital Marketing – do you have an accurate, effective, and easy to use website?
    • Search Engine Optimization – are you paying for advertising? Google and other search engines may require you to obtain LegitScript certification.  Doing so will be crucial to your SEO and adwords marketing success.
    • Local Marketing – have you prepared fliers, brochures, etc. to take around to local doctors, clinicians, businesses, etc.?
  • Referrals and Lead Generation. Are you hoping to sign up for a referral service or purchase leads? These areas of addiction marketing are highly regulated and fraught with unscrupulous marketers and “body brokers” looking to “sell” you clients.  You need to run from any such people and make sure that any affiliation you have with referral services or lead generation companies is legitimate and above board.

As mentioned earlier, all of your efforts to start a drug rehab will mean little if you can’t find clients.  As such, a strong, strategic, and intentional marketing plan is crucial.

Should Your Rehab be Accredited?

Once you are licensed and operational, you will need to decide if it serves your rehab to be accredited with a national accrediting organization.  Consumers need a way to identify quality care that operates at a higher standard.  Additionally, many insurance companies are now mandating that their insureds seek treatment at facilities that are accredited by one of the national accrediting organizations.  As such, you may elect to seek accreditation.

In seeking accreditation, your rehab will undergo an evaluation and audit by a third-party accrediting body.  By subjecting your rehab to such evaluation, your facility will undergo a rigorous evaluation and ultimately certify to potential clients and their families that your rehab facility is a cut above.

There are multiple accrediting organizations for drug and alcohol rehabs, but the two most commonly recognized are: The Joint Commission and The Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF).  Please refer to our other blog posts about the pros and cons of each of these two accrediting organizations, but suffice it to say, you should consider seeking accreditation from one or both of these organizations after you’ve opened your drug rehab facility.

The process for obtaining accreditation can be overwhelming for a new drug rehab facility, so you should only proceed when you’re ready.  A skilled and competent consultant or advisor can help you navigate the complexities and bureaucracy of accreditation.

Using Data To Set Your Rehab Apart

Finally, you have opened your drug rehab facility and are serving the public.  How can you set your drug rehab apart from your competition?

The Kennedy Forum, a leading member of the national debate to transform and improve health care systems, recently published an Issue Brief titled: Fixing Behavioral Healthcare in America.  In it, the Kennedy Forum stated: “behavioral health providers treating mental health and substance use disorders should implement a system of measurement-based care whereby validated symptom rating scales are completed by patients and reviewed by clinicians during encounters. Measurement-based care will help providers determine whether the treatment is working and facilitate treatment adjustments, consultations, or referrals for higher intensity services when patients are not improving” (emphasis added).

Tetra Outcomes is a huge proponent of drug rehabs using data and measurement-based care to improve patient care and outcomes.  Unfortunately, many rehabs are slow to adopt these important, validated tools.  As such, if you want to set your drug rehab apart and have legitimate, valid marketing data to share with prospective clients and their families, I highly recommend that you implement a progress monitoring and outcomes tracking system.  Doing so will ensure that you provide better care, have better outcomes, and create the conditions for sustained recovery for each and everyone of your clients.

Congratulations on your decision to start a drug and alcohol rehab.  We need effective, committed, and honest providers just like you!  Feel free to contact Tetra Outcomes and our team if we can help you with any of the steps along the way!!

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