Addiction Treatment Services: How It Turned Its Life Around

By Ross Boissoneau

Those suffering from an addiction to drugs or alcohol have a two-pronged problem to face: dealing with the addiction and dealing with the shame it brings. In its efforts to combat both those challenges, Addiction Treatment Services (ATS) of Traverse City has also helped itself survive – battling back from serious financial troubles. Christopher Hindbaugh, the executive director of ATS, said it was a matter of choosing a model of treatment based on assisting clients before they became societal problems or even criminals.

The agency’s radical re-invention has not only assisted clients but has resulted in growth and recognition for ATS locally and nationally. In fact, Hindbaugh recently had Washington, D.C.’s ear, meeting with SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) to discuss the agency’s treatment plans.

“We’re one of the few providers to be at that table,” he said. “Most of the rest of the participants are members of associations such as nurses and social workers.”

That recognition reflects the strides ATS has made in the past six years. The agency started back in the ’70s as a halfway house for alcoholic men. Over the next 30 years, Hindbaugh said, the agency survived through a combination of small grants and the criminal justice system. But it was not able to grow to serve the greater community.

When he came on board about five and a half years ago, he said the situation was bleak.

“We were losing a quarter million dollars a year,” he recalled. “We had a hard time making payroll and had to make staff cuts.”

Recover or recoil?

Hindbaugh saw two options for continuing on. One was to scale back services even further. The other was to change its approach to a medical model with a professional staff and best practices.

ATS opted for the second, which Hindbaugh admitted was somewhat counter-intuitive, along the lines of, “If you build it, they will come.” Fortunately, for the agency and the clients it assists, they did build it, and they did come. Today, while it still accepts some clients through the criminal justice system, the bulk of the clients come of their own accord, and are either covered by insurance or pay their own way.

“We fully committed to a medical model,” said Hindbaugh. “We went all in. It meant getting the right people in the right roles. We offer a deeper commitment to quality health care.”

Today the agency offers evidence-based practices designed to help people before they become enmeshed in the criminal justice system.

“We more than doubled our clients, with a deeper commitment to quality health care,” Hindbaugh said, including not only detox and residential programs but also outpatient services. The program includes everything from yoga and acupuncture to movie nights, all in settings that are designed to provide support in a safe environment. Hindbaugh said before the changes implemented at ATS, those looking for a similar approach for treatment would have to go not just out of town, but out of state.

ATS has several different facilities. Dakoske Hall treats men and Phoenix Hall treats women. (Research shows that gender-specific residential treatment centers work best, Hindbaugh noted). There’s also a detox center, lab testing center, administrative offices, five recovery homes, and The P.O.R.C.H. (Providing Opportunities for Recovery and Community Health) – a community center and outreach facility which opened last July.

“We need to be proud of what we do and invite people in,” said Hindbaugh. He said The P.O.R.C.H. offers a safe and fun place for movie nights, art nights and just a gathering place, both for people coming out of treatment and others simply looking for a fun place in a safe, sober and clean environment. There was even a food truck there last summer as part of a partnership with Goodwill.

The community outreach is visible in other ways, too. Two and half years ago,  ATS hosted a presentation at the City Opera House with actress Kristen Johnston, most well-known for her role on the television series “3rd Rock from the Sun.” Johnson read from her book “Guts,” a memoir about her own struggles with addiction.

Hindbaugh said they created a video during her visit, which got the agency featured in the documentary about addiction and addicted persons “The Anonymous People.”

“Every treatment center knows about the film,” he said. “We won a national award for the program with Kristen Johnston.”

That, in turn, got ATS noticed and eventually got them a seat at the policy-making table in Washington, D.C.

“There was an unmet need and we couldn’t live with that,” said Hindbaugh of the evolution of the treatment provider. “We keep expanding and people keep showing up. It speaks to the need in the community. Our clients are not the stereotypes from the criminal justice system. They’re middle aged, middle income, middle class folks.”

In its quest to reinvent itself to better treat clients, ATS added positions more typically found in for-profit businesses. Today its staff includes an accountant, a business development director, a director of operations, a nurse practitioner, even an IT professional. Hindbaugh said progress has taken time, but he believes ATS is now much better poised to serve the community. And you can bet those policy-makers in Washington, D.C. will be watching its next move.