Published on November 12, 2021

Seven Core Questions to Ask When Determining if a Substance Abuse Treatment Center is a Good Fit

You’ll likely have plenty of questions if you or a loved one has decided to seek treatment for a substance abuse disorder (SUD). A first thought may be, “What will substance abuse treatment be like?” Followed by, “How can I be sure the program will work?,” “How soon can treatment begin?” and “Can I afford treatment/will it be covered?”

To give you or your loved one an optimal chance of recovery, two clinical providers at Bergen New Bridge Medical Center in Paramus provide their insights on choosing an inpatient or outpatient substance abuse treatment program.

Seven Questions to Ask

When thinking about an outpatient or residential/inpatient treatment program, ask about these seven attributes:

    1. Is the Facility Accredited?
      Ask if the program is accredited by a national health care quality assurance agency, such as The Joint Commission, Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, HIPAA Compliancy Group, American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), or Association for Addiction Professionals. These organizations endorse substance abuse treatment centers that meet rigorous accreditation criteria.

      “Accreditation is a signal to a patient that the facility is held to a higher standard,” said Gian Varbaro, MD, chief medical officer at Bergen New Bridge.

      Another suggestion: The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator maintains a searchable database of accredited substance abuse treatment programs by address, city and ZIP code. The only facilities listed are those accredited by state or national quality assurance agencies.

    2. Is the Staff Licensed in Addiction Medicine?
      Be assured that you or your loved one will be in good hands if the doctors and counselors you’ll be working with are board-certified.

      Doctors who are licensed to specialize in addiction medicine are certified by the ASAM, American Board of Preventive Medicine and American Board of Addiction Medicine. Counselors who are certified in addiction treatment have earned the degree of CADC (certified alcohol and drug counselor) or LCADC (licensed clinical alcohol and drug counselor).

      A doctor or counselor must have at least three years of experience in addiction medicine and must undertake a thorough training and certification process to receive any of these certifications.

    3. How Soon Can Treatment Begin?
      Typically because of insurance issues or lack of available beds, a new patient may land on a waiting list at some substance abuse treatment facilities — for several weeks in some cases — according to the Partnership to End Addiction Given that drug overdoses nationally account for more than 70,000 deaths a year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, any lag in treatment could endanger the prospective patient, the Partnership notes.

      “Immediate SUD treatment is critical, especially when you consider how many people are dying of opioid overdoses,” said Michael J. Paolello, MA, LCADC, chief clinical officer, addictions treatment at Bergen New Bridge.

      Inquire if the center you are considering has a waiting list and, if so, how long the wait for admission would be. “You don’t want to tell patients to come back in two weeks,” Paolello said.

    4. Will My Insurance Cover Treatment, and If So, To What Extent?
      While some substance abuse treatment programs accept all third-party insurance carriers, from commercial to Medicare to Medicaid, other programs accept only commercial insurance. “That’s a barrier to treatment right there,” Paolello said.

      Before treatment starts, call your insurer to see if there are restrictions on coverage or if a co-payment is required, Dr. Varbaro suggested. In addition, find out if the facility needs insurer approval before treatment can begin (a process called prior authorization).

    5. Will the Program Be Effective?
      Request metrics that point to a program’s ability to motivate patients toward recovery, Paolello and Dr. Varbaro suggest. Find out what percentage of patients are regularly attending meetings — and how often they are attending.

    6. How Do You Keep Patients Motivated?
      Where does the long road to recovery start? At “rock bottom.”

      “When patients come in to begin treatment, they are often at their lowest point,” said Paolello, adding that patients typically feel a sense of failure at the start of SUD treatment.

      Thus, building a patient’s self-esteem during recovery is key to treatment success, Paolello said. Encouragement and reinforcement are essential treatment tools, experts note, and substance abuse treatment specialists use clinical scales and questionnaires throughout the course of treatment to measure a patient’s self-esteem and motivation.

      “As patients begin working the program, they see they are making progress and celebrate the little milestones along the way,” Dr. Varbaro added. “They become more motivated and their self-esteem increases.”

      When contemplating a program, ask how the staff measures motivation and entices patient engagement.

    7. Does the Facility Offer the Program You/Your Loved One Needs?
      Many substance abuse treatment centers specialize in specific inpatient or outpatient programs, but do not offer the full breadth of treatment options. Also, many hospitals and medically assisted treatment centers are equipped to treat withdrawal of some substances, but not others.

      Bergen New Bridge Medical Center offers a complete assortment of inpatient and outpatient substance abuse treatment programs, including:
      • Inpatient acute medical detoxification for patients with all alcohol- and drug-related SUDs, as well as outgoing treatment programs to help patients overcome lingering withdrawal symptoms, or “cravings.”
      • Short-term inpatient treatment that helps patients begin their recovery journey in a supported environment.
      • Intensive and minimally restrictive outpatient treatment programs.
    1. The center staffs both physicians and counselors who are certified in substance abuse treatment, and also features a beneficial counselor-to-patient ratio, with one licensed counselor for every six patients who need substance abuse treatment, Paolello and Dr. Varbaro note.
    1. As a Joint Commission-accredited hospital with a complete medical facility, a behavioral health unit and 24/7 nursing at its disposal, the Bergen New Bridge substance abuse treatment team also can skilfully treat patients with a co-occurring behavioral disorder.
      1. Bergen New Bridge is a state-designated, not-for-profit safety net hospital, so all patients in greater Bergen County are accepted for treatment regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay, Paolello and Dr. Varbaro note, adding that the center’s substance abuse program treats an estimated 500 patients annually.

If you or a family member are struggling with substance abuse issues, call the Bergen New Bridge Medical Center outpatient line at 201-967-4188. Callers are immediately referred to a licensed substance abuse counselor, who directs the caller toward a substance abuse treatment program based on the patient’s need.

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