The United States is in the grip of an opioid addiction epidemic, but despite the rising number of individuals in need of treatment, there aren’t nearly enough addiction treatment specialists to meet the need. In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), as of 2013 there were approximately 22.7 million people in need of drug or alcohol treatment, but only 2.5 million people were able to access such care. And worse, many patients received treatment from poorly trained and under-qualified staff.
How can rehabilitation centers find more qualified staff for their facilities? To meet current demand levels, we need changes at multiple levels, from medical schools to the hiring process, as well as a deeper awareness of what practices are effective in facilitating long-term sobriety.
Enhancing Addiction Education
In the past, most medical schools provided only negligible addiction medicine education outside of specialized psychiatric training, but as more primary care physicians began to encounter addiction-related disease, professional education has been forced to evolve.
That’s why, in addition to receiving basic training during medical school, doctors interested in treating drug and alcohol dependency can apply to one of the 52 new fellowships accredited by the Addiction Medicine Foundation since 2011.
Like other specialty training programs, these fellowships take six years to complete, but as the first groups of graduates emerge, rehabilitation facilities will have access to many more qualified physicians who can oversee treatment teams.
Partnering With Professionals
While it’s easy to gauge a physician’s credentials in addiction medicine, it’s much more difficult to determine whether someone is a suitable case manager or addiction counselor, since requirements are lax and vary widely from state to state. That’s why, especially when starting a new program, it’s helpful to coordinate with a professional staffing program. Consultants like The Drug Rehab Agency have years of experience with recruiting and training management, billing staff, and admissions professionals among others.
One reason it’s so important for rehabilitation facilities to have guidance during the hiring process is that staffing errors are dangerous for patients and can also lead to negative publicity. At one top rehab chain, for example, understaffing was so severe that clients were regularly unsupervised and weren’t receiving individual or group counseling. Staff described extreme caseloads and countless safety concerns that professional staffing services could easily address.
Hiring For Holistic Care
Perhaps the easiest group of rehabilitation professionals to hire are those who practice holistic care. These providers are often the ones who equip clients with the tools for lifelong recovery. That includes introducing new fitness and nutrition regimens, providing massage or acupuncture, or training in yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness practices. These approaches have been shown to help reduce cravings and anxiety and support traditional medical approaches to addiction care.
Holistic practitioners often have independent certifications; they may be psychologists or social workers, yoga teachers, or acupuncturists and most have professional affiliations. Though these practitioners may not be addiction specialists, their work is in high demand and when selecting an addiction treatment program, many patients specifically seek out holistic care options.
Medication-Assisted Treatment Training
Finally, though it can be controversial in inpatient treatment settings, medication-assisted therapy (MAT) is now being recognized as the gold standard in opioid addiction treatment. This approach involves using medications like buprenorphine or methadone to reduce cravings and make recovery more sustainable. In particular, buprenorphine, which is prescribed out of a traditional doctor’s office and taken independently can help people in recovery return to a stable lifestyle and maintain their sobriety without being tied to a methadone clinic. But to prescribe it, doctors need to be specially trained and federally licensed.
When hiring for rehabilitation facilities, it’s important to assess whether or not you want to offer MAT and if so whether you wish to hire pre-trained physicians or encourage other staff, including physicians assistants (PAs), to pursue training. Psychiatrists and physicians can typically begin prescribing after 8 hours of training, depending on experience, but as use of buprenorphine expands, PAs can undertake a 24 hour training in order to qualify as providers. This can make a valuable treatment protocol more accessible, but it isn’t right for every rehabilitation center.
Drug and alcohol rehab programs continue to evolve, and they need care providers who can keep up with new treatment protocols and a growing patient base. But business is urgent and hiring takes time. Getting professional support in recruitment and training can help ensure facilities employ only the more professional, qualified individuals to guide clients on the path to recovery.