STAT

Targeted by an addiction treatment center, union workers feel trapped as their benefits are drained

Addiction treatment centers are targeting union workers because they usually have generous insurance benefits that pay for long stays in rehab.

They’d been promised a “spa for teachers,” but were brought to a rundown, low-slung building on an unremarkable stretch of road miles from the beach. Employees confiscated their cellphones, credit cards, and driver’s licenses.

One after another, New Jersey public school teachers arrived at the Recovery Institute of South Florida after asking their union to find them addiction or mental health treatment. Instead of getting the help they needed, many said they were essentially trapped at the facility while their health insurance was billed tens of thousands of dollars.

“I felt like a prisoner,” said Michael Barone, a special education aide in a New Jersey public school who spent two months at the institute last year. He said he was forced to stay longer than he felt necessary because he couldn’t go back to work without the center signing off on his return.

The teachers’ experience is a stark example of what’s happening around the country to union members fighting addiction. Treatment center operators and middlemen who act as brokers for those facilities are targeting these workers because they usually have generous insurance benefits that pay for long stays in rehab. They also often need a health care provider’s clearance to return to work, handing the centers tremendous power over patients.

“There are facilities definitely keeping people to make money,” said Ken Serviss, the executive director of the Allied Trades Assistance Program in Philadelphia, which oversees substance abuse treatment benefits for several unions. Serviss spoke generally, and not about the Recovery Institute. “They have that leverage to hold over them and keep them longer than they need. That is a big issue.”

Read more: Desperate for addiction treatment, patients are pawns in lucrative insurance fraud scheme

STAT and The Boston Globe interviewed 10 people treated at the institute over the last five years — teachers, mostly from New Jersey, as well as school custodians and social workers or their relatives. Most said they were allowed only limited contact with family. They complained about inadequate and cookie-cutter treatment, consisting mostly of group counseling and 12-step meetings, massages at a local chiropractor’s office, and plenty of free time.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from STAT

STAT2 min read
Pelosi: Democrats Will Name Marquee Drug Pricing Bill For Late Rep. Cummings
Rep. Elijah Cummings, a longtime advocate for lower drug prices, passed away Thursday. Now Nancy Pelosi is naming Democrats’ drug pricing bill in his honor.
STAT4 min readSociety
An ‘Unprecedented’ Analysis Underlines Profound Failure To Study African Genomes
It has become the geneticist’s version of, “What, me not inclusive? But I have a black friend!” In the case of modern studies of DNA, researchers called to task for studying mainly European populations often defend themselves by pointing out that the
STAT3 min read
Opinion: CBO Estimate On Pelosi Drug Bill Misses Its Long-term Impact On Health
The CBO estimate on Speaker Nancy Pelosi's drug pricing bill misses its long-term impact on health.