- people on the move
Inside Track: Fixing rehab
CEO of Sanford House Addiction Treatment Centers uses counseling, safer alternatives to treating excessive substance use.
David Green is on a mission to “rehab rehab.” The CEO and co-founder of Sanford House Addiction Treatment Centers said he believes a fresh and educated perspective on addiction treatment is needed before Michigan pays the long-term cost of excessive substance use.
A serial entrepreneur with a background in law, real estate, media and more, Green was inspired to enter the treatment field by his wife Rae. While his background is not in rehabilitative health, everything he did throughout his multifaceted career set him up to undertake the challenge, he said.
Rae Green was inspired to seek a new approach to addiction treatment after her experience working in several treatment centers, including Pine Rest and Our Hope Association.
“She noticed a lot of women from Grand Rapids were coming there asking to volunteer, and they had just been through residential treatment and were well on their way to recovery and wanted to give back and volunteer their time,” David Green said.
Green said, in many of these cases, the women had gone to treatment out of state, even as far as Arizona. The Greens looked into it and realized there was a need for high-quality private treatment in Michigan, which was the impetus for Rae Green to start Sanford.
Rae Green achieved a master’s degree in addiction counseling 12 years ago. The two both started out as lawyers, but Rae Green transitioned out of it fairly quickly.
At the time, David Green was looking for different business opportunities and decided his professional background made a good fit for what his wife wanted to do.
“Because of my business background, and to a certain extent my hospitality background and marketing background, etc., we decided to team up and pool our talents, and it’s worked out great,” he said.
Green served as an associate attorney at Warner Norcross + Judd from 1987-90 and later moved on to become vice president and general counsel at Landquest Companies, a real estate development company and predecessor to DP Fox Ventures.
Green also established Justice & Monroe Advertising, a full-service marketing and advertising firm, in 2003 and Fox Insurance Agency in 2004.
The Greens opened Sanford House in 2014 with a women’s treatment center, rapidly expanding with a men’s treatment center in 2017 and an outpatient facility in 2018. Due to the high demand for individualized care to addiction, Sanford grew from four employees to more than 50 today.
Sanford House exercises what the industry calls medically assisted treatment, which is a combination of counseling along with some “new-generation” drugs that don’t rely on methadone and have been developed recently as a response to the growing opioid crisis.
Counseling includes group, individual and family therapy sessions.
The organization also has put together a one-year program for outpatient care after residential treatment. Patients first drop down to “intensive outpatient” care, which is usually eight sessions consisting of group, individual or family therapy.
The process is used for people who suffer from alcoholism, as well.
“We insist on family therapy at that time, and as you move forward in your recovery, you essentially graduate to outpatient treatment, and that can be one-to-two group sessions per week,” Green said.
Green said Sanford House strives to be known for heavy family involvement during treatment. The organization believes addiction is a family disease, meaning it affects relationships and generations.
“The good news is, when somebody gets well, it can pay dividends for generations, as well,” Green said.
Green said addiction is a disease that affects everybody. While there may be studies that try to break down trends across economic or racial demographics, Sanford House believes the disease does not discriminate.
“I think a lot of people will immediately go to describing perhaps, ‘You’re in addiction treatment; you must be dealing with people of low-income status,’” Green said. “I can tell you it’s your friends. It’s people in your church. It’s people in your office. It absolutely does not discriminate.”
What matters most in successful rehab is the connection between the counselor and the client, Green said.
Aside from successful patient outcomes, Green said he’s proud of Sanford House’s outreach programs, which are going to expand in the future with the development of a foundation specifically dedicated to addiction education.
“We feel one of the great contributions we can make to West Michigan is through talking about the disease of addiction … to schools and churches, and we’ve done a lot of that,” Green said. “It doesn’t matter someone’s education level. Generally speaking, they come to us having no idea that addiction has been identified as a disease. They have no idea what treatment looks like.”
Public perception of addiction is starting to soften, Green said, and one of the reasons he and his wife created Sanford was to attack the stigma against excessive substance use.
“The reality is somebody with the disease of addiction … what that means … is your brain, through years of use of psychoactive substances, literally changes how it operates, and that’s what the surgeon general means when they say they’re officially declaring addiction as a disease. It’s a brain disease,” Green said.
The good news for people who suffer addiction is if recovery is successful, those impacted brain systems can repair themselves over time, Green added.
Green said enrollment in treatment at Sanford can fluctuate anywhere from 100% to 50% occupancy, although enrollment tends to pick up after a major holiday. Often, people are enrolled in the program after their family members, whom they don’t usually see, discover there is a problem.
On the availability side, addiction treatment still has a long way to go, particularly for Michigan.
Green pointed to a report from Altarum published in July 2019, which revealed most Michigan residents who suffer from addiction go untreated. Of the approximately 638,000 Michiganders experiencing a substance use disorder, only 20% receive treatment.
Additionally, while opioid addiction often takes center stage in the discussion, alcoholism is the primary substance use disorder in Michigan, and it is most likely to go untreated, according to the report.
“The reason it’s not talked about is because it’s not what’s written on death certificates,” Green said. “People will say, ‘Oh, he died of a heart attack.’ Well, yes, but he might have lived for another 20 years if he didn’t drink a whole bottle of vodka regularly.”
Another report from Milliman, published in November 2019, revealed people were more than 10 times more likely to use an out-of-network provider for a substance use disorder than for a physical condition.
“Some people throw a lot of stones at the insurance companies,” Green said. “My latest thinking on it is, we — corporations who pay premiums, or individuals who pay premiums, the deductible and out-of-pocket — are the ones who have to put our hands up and say mental health coverage and substance use disorder coverage is a priority.”
Based on conversations he has had with business leaders, Green is convinced they would be willing to support a more robust addiction treatment program. While the upfront cost for care may be expensive, the long-term cost to communities, families and Michigan’s workforce is even more damaging.
Green remembered his time as a lawyer when the field of environmental law still was emerging. He said society as a whole had been operating heavy industry for decades not realizing it was paying the long-term cost of environmental cleanup.
“We’re going along, we’re purchasing things, and they don’t essentially have an environmental tax on them,” Green said. “That’s changed obviously in a big way, with more room for improvement, but I don’t think we’ve paid the mental health and substance use disorder tax. We need to pay attention to this and we need to invest in it.”