Should sober living houses be covered by insurance? INTERVIEW with Opportunities Halfway House

A review of the PROs and CONs of combining insurance with halfway house reimbursement. An article of interest to parents and regulating state/federal governments! More about sober living and insurance here.

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Attention parents, law makers and regulators!

Today, we speak with Brittany Ringersen of Opportunities Halfway House in Delray Beach, FL. We talk about the +’s and -‘s of using insurance to pay for sober living, as well as WHAT TO AVOID when looking for a halfway house. Then, we invite your questions about sober living or halfway house management at the end.

ADDICTION BLOG: What does it take to run a quality halfway house? What are the foundational principles or qualities that parents or family should be looking for when considering a sober living environment for their loved ones?

OPPORTUNITIES WOMEN’S HALFWAY HOUSE: I believe that what it takes to run a quality halfway house is a strong desire to provide recovering alcoholics and addicts with a safe, structured environment in which to start their recovery journey. Running a halfway house is not a 9 -5 job where you can clock out at the end of the day and forget about your work. It requires a lot of late nights, early mornings and equal amounts of compassion and discipline.

Some of the principles and qualities a family should look for are structure and supervision. You want to find a house where the residents are required to go to meetings, have a sponsor, obtain employment and do chores. It is also very important that the residents be drug tested at least on a weekly basis to insure the sobriety of everyone living in the house.

ADDICTION BLOG: What are some signs of really poorly managed sober living facilities?

OPPORTUNITIES WOMEN’S HALFWAY HOUSE: The number one sign of a poorly managed halfway house is one where residents are allowed to use drugs and alcohol while living there. You would think that this is a rare occurrence, but it happens much more often than you would think.

Another big warning sign is if the house is co-ed, with men and women living under the same roof. It can be very uncomfortable for a newly sober woman to have a male roommate, especially if she has a history of sexual or physical abuse, which many women in recovery do.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to spot a poorly managed halfway house at face value, which is why organizations such as SCRRA (South County Recovery Residence Association) and FARR ( Florida Association of Recovery Residences) are so wonderful. These are organizations that inspect and certify halfway houses to ensure the quality and integrity of the programs. Members are required to uphold certain standards of living and care for their clients, as well as abide by a code of ethics in their practices. You should do research to see which state regulatory associations are in your area.

ADDICTION BLOG: What would you like to see in terms of sober living regulations or governance in Florida and throughout the U.S.?

OPPORTUNITIES WOMEN’S HALFWAY HOUSE: I would love to see all sober living and halfway houses registered with some form of a regulation agency either on a county or state level. It requires the facilities to have certain policy and procedures from intakes to discharges. This prevents facilities from practices that are unethical, such as unauthorized billing of insurance to having a “flop house” which allows residents to use mind altering substances without consequences. Having these types of changes will force all of the facilities to uphold a level of ethics which is missing in a lot of sober livings.

ADDICTION BLOG: Halfway houses offer structured environments but come at a price. How are insurance companies getting involved in behavioral healthcare reimbursements?

OPPORTUNITIES WOMEN’S HALFWAY HOUSE: Unfortunately, it appears that a lot of insurance companies are getting involved with halfway houses without their approval or knowledge. What has been happening lately is that many Intensive Outpatient programs have been offering free rent as an incentive for clients to come to their program. What they then do is find halfway houses willing to house their clients and be paid directly by the treatment center. The insurance companies are being billed for “case management” services and have no idea that the money is actually going to pay the client’s rent.

ADDICTION BLOG: What are some of the PROs and the CONs of using insurance to pay for sober living?

OPPORTUNITIES WOMEN’S HALFWAY HOUSE: There are few pros and many cons of using insurance to pay for sober living. The pros are that quite frequently, people who are new to recovery have little to no money to pay an intake fee or even the rent at a halfway house. Using their insurance to pay their rent takes what can be a large financial burden off their shoulders.

However, insurance does not pay out forever and what ends up happening to a lot of clients is that once their benefits dry up, they are asked to leave the halfway house, sometimes even with as little notice as a couple of hours! Another big con to using the insurance to pay rent is that a big part of getting sober is learning to be financially responsible and independent. Clients need to learn to budget their money and pay their bills on time, which is not something they will learn if they are living for free.

ADDICTION BLOG: Let’s move on to some more about your program at Opportunities…and your own recovery philosophy. Why did you choose to work only with women? What are the challenges in treating women you have faced ?

OPPORTUNITIES WOMEN’S HALFWAY HOUSE: We chose to work with only women because that is what we know! When we opened Opportunities it was because we saw a need for quality women’s sober housing in the area. There were countless reputable sober houses for men, but only a small handful that were just for women.  We believe that the relationships women build with other women in early recovery are vital to them attaining long-term sobriety and we wanted to create a home to foster those incredibly important relationships.

There have been many challenges in treating women. The two that I believe we see the most often are trauma and eating disorders. What happens with addicts and alcoholics is that they spend years using drugs and alcohol as the solution to all of their problems. They numb the pain and memories of any trauma they have experienced but then once they get sober, all of that comes rushing back. I can’t count how many women I’ve known who relapsed as a result of having to face their past and feel their feelings for the first time in a very long time.

Additionally, eating disorders are something that many women and men in recovery deal with. A lot of times while they are using drugs and alcohol, the eating disorder is fairly under control. However, once they get sober they instinctively look for a new addiction to replace what they have lost. Eating disorders can be incredibly difficult to recover from and require a staff who is trained to look for warning signs and behaviors and also has knowledge of resources for eating disorder recovery.

ADDICTION BLOG: At your facility, you have some rules that residents are required to follow” daily chores, curfews, meetings, etc. How important are those rules for women’s treatment? Do they, in this way get a chance to shape their life in more responsible way and achieve stability?

OPPORTUNITIES WOMEN’S HALFWAY HOUSE: I believe that rules and structure are incredibly important for women’s treatment. Most women have lived their lives in a constant state of chaos up until the point that they reach out for help. They are used to sleeping all day and staying up all night, not working or working sporadically and not being accountable to anyone or anything. Part of learning to function in normal society is learning that society has rules and learning to follow those rules. Also, most women come into recovery with very low self-worth and even something as small as having done their chore for the day can have a huge benefit in how they see themselves.

ADDICTION BLOG: You also offer yoga classes, meditation, free art therapy classes, gym membership. What are the positives experiences from these services, how to they help optimizing chance for successful recovery?

OPPORTUNITIES WOMEN’S HALFWAY HOUSE: Part of getting sober is learning to care for oneself fully, mind, body and soul. Many women come into recovery and they have no idea what their hobbies, passions and spiritual beliefs are. The services that we offer are designed to help them explore different ways to heal themselves and learn how to have fun in sobriety.

ADDICTION BLOG: You provide recovery for women with eating disorders. In what way can women develop a better image of their bodies?

OPPORTUNITIES WOMEN’S HALFWAY HOUSE: Therapy is key for people suffering with eating disorders. A good eating disorder therapist will work closely with a nutritionist to develop meal plans for a client, combining that with good, self-esteem building exercises can work wonders in combating the shame and guilt associated with eating disorders. Also, involvement in fellowships such as Eating Disorders Anonymous can be enormously effective in helping women love their bodies again.

ADDICTION BLOG: What about women with family and kids? Is the recovery process different for mothers? How can mothers optimize their recovery?

OPPORTUNITIES WOMEN’S HALFWAY HOUSE: Oftentimes, a parent who is living in a halfway house in early recovery will feel very guilty about not being with their kids. This can often lead to them leaving the recovery residence earlier than recommended in order to get back to their children. If a woman does not have a solid foundation of sobriety under her belt before returning home, the daily stressors of work, caring for the children and managing a household can quickly overwhelm them and lead them back to a drink or a drug. I always try to emphasize to mothers in early recovery that unless their sobriety is solid, they will not be an effective parent. Building relationships with other mothers in recovery can go a long way toward assuring a woman who is living apart from her children that she is in fact doing the right thing for herself and her family.

ADDICTION BLOG: What happens after residents leave your facility? Do you stay in touch with them and check out how do they cope on their own?

OPPORTUNITIES WOMEN’S HALFWAY HOUSE: We love hearing from our former clients! We try to touch base with former clients at least once a month or so, there is nothing better than hearing the awesome things they are doing with their lives. Also, our former residents are fantastic resources for the new girls coming in to our houses. They come and take girls to meetings and sometimes even sponsor them.

ADDICTION BLOG: Is there anything you would like to add?

OPPORTUNITIES WOMEN’S HALFWAY HOUSE: I would really like to thank Addiction Blog for taking the time to support this very pressing issue. Helping struggling families find a safe and sober environment for their loved one during one of the hardest times in their life is our aim. We want everyone to be aware of the resources available to do research. Do not just take a facilities word on their services, because they will often say whatever it takes to get a client in. I think once people are aware of what to look for and what qualities make a good half way house and/or drug addiction treatment center they can begin to make informed decisions. If you would like anymore information about us and our women’s services please call 844-SOBER-WOMEN or visit us online at Sobriety For Women [dot] com.

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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