Arapahoe House Celebrates 40 Years

Submitted by: 10/06/2015 by Maureen Fitzgerald

Arapahoe House began in 1975 as a community effort launched by the Arapahoe County Colorado League of Women Voters. Today, what started as a single treatment center has grown to 11 locations in the metropolitan Denver area. The Arapahoe House staff includes close to 400 employees providing 20 unique services to more than 15,000 clients each year.

The community support that’s been vital to Arapahoe House since its beginnings was on full display at a recent 40th Anniversary celebration and fundraising event. The sold-out Arapahoe House Luncheon with former professional golfer David Flaherty drew 750 attendees and raised $250,000 for the organization.

Arthur Schut, president and CEO of Arapahoe House, joined the organization in 2008. Along with community support, many other any factors have contributed to the organization’s success, says Schut.

“We are regarded as an evidence-based and innovative organization,” he explains. “That’s come about through our relationships with NIATx and the NIDA Clinical Trials Network, as well as our work in more than 30 SAMHSA-funded pilots and demonstration projects,” he explains.

NIATx as part of the Arapahoe House culture

One of the first things Schut did when he joined Arapahoe House was to conduct a classic NIATx walk-through.

“I admitted myself under my own name to one of our detox centers,” says Schut. “I made up a story and said I had been picked up the night before for public intoxication for the second time.  I said this was a wakeup call for me and I wanted to sort things out. When the staff determined that I needed outpatient services, I went through the admission process.”

Before joining Arapahoe House, Schut had acquired a strong NIATx background as CEO of MECCA Services in Iowa City, Iowa. MECCA was one of the first treatment organizations to test the NIATx model as part of both the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded Paths to Recovery and the CSAT-funded Strengthening treatment Access and Retention (STAR) projects.

Arapahoe House had also built up its NIATx skills as part of the STAR project as well as STAR-SI, Advancing Recovery, and the Accelerating Reform Initiative.

Schut’s walk-through at Arapahoe House was immensely informative. 

“What stood out for me was that every staff person I encountered was compassionate and caring—and most of them didn’t know who I was yet, so it wasn’t because they were trying to impress the new boss,” explains Schut. “The walk-through also showed me that all the systems had challenges that needed fixing, so I started a list of things that keep the CEO awake a night.”

Schut and his team then set about addressing those challenges—one at a time.

“Too often, organizations get caught in the trap of not clearly defining a problem,” says Schut. “The NIATx focus on one issue at a time has made me an advocate—we pick one issue, define it well, and then see if we can change it.”

Schut says one big advantage of the NIATx model is that it’s a non-threatening way to produce change. “And that’s in part because it relies on data for decision making and doesn’t involve changing everything at once.”   

A refresh of NIATx principles is planned for all leadership staff in the next couple of months.

Thinking forward

Schut also attributes Arapahoe House’s success today to its advance planning for the changes that came with full implementation of health care reform.

“Because of our relationships with NIATx and SAAS (now part of the National Council), we knew what to anticipate and started to work on it early,” comments Schut.

Some of the organization’s forward-thinking strategies have included:

·      Establishing an internal training program to supervise staff to obtain licensure required for substance use and mental health credentialing.

·      Renegotiating rates and contracts with third-party payers.  Adds Schut, “Our organization and our clinicians are credentialed, and this is an ongoing process.”

·      Embedding behavioral health clinicians in primary care clinics to promote integrated care services.

·      Establishing relationships with more than 20 emergency rooms in the Denver area: Arapahoe House transfers patients with high levels of intoxication or a SUD from the ERs to one of its detox centers, thus freeing up ERs for critical care needs.

·      Medication-assisted treatment: Arapahoe House has offered a variety of MAT, including Suboxone, Vivitrol, and naltrexone, combined with appropriate counseling therapy.

·      Providing services for diverse populations, including Spanish-speaking clients and the deaf and hard-of-hearing.

·      Embracing technology: Arapahoe House offers its clients use of A-CHESS, the smart phone app for recovery support.

Arapahoe House also participated in public policy discussions with the federal government that led to treatment for substance use disorders being included as an essential health care benefit of the Affordable Care Act

What’s next?

Health care reform is bringing attention to the need to integrate addiction treatment services with other areas of health care. Schut says addiction treatment will be seen as specialty care, similar to oncology or orthopedics.

“We know a lot about how to help people manage a chronic illness—that’s what recovery is all about,” says Schut. “We also deal with people that other medical professions don’t always want to treat.”   

He shares a story of one patient he encountered early in his career.

“This was in a treatment center in a small rural county that served chronic alcoholics, some of them with the serious health complications that you see with end-stage alcoholism. One patient who’d been there for repeated treatments left unexpectedly before completing his 26th treatment episode. A year or so later, a well-groomed guy wearing a three-piece suit stopped me on the street. I didn’t recognize him, but he came up to me and said, “‘Art, I just really want to than you because it was the 26th time that did it.””

Schut says that this transformation solidified his commitment to the field.  He adds, “In many respects, there are many people who need 26 times. There’s hope for everyone.”

And as it has for the past 40 years, Arapahoe House will continue to offer hope for those in need of treatment, building on its history of research-based and compassionate care.  

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