…Another piece of legislation I would introduce would be for swift and harsh penalties for insurance companies for improper denials under Parity Law. Currently, the amount of oversight on the insurance payers is insufficient, and recourse from members and facilities is limited due to the immense resources the insurance companies have. They continue to cut treatment episodes for individuals who need it, pay less for services rendered, and deny services based on internal procedural codes with no level of transparency. Though they demand and expect transparency from the other parties. The idea of having immediate punitive consequences for the insurance companies for these violations would be a huge game changer for the American public.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Brittany Ringersen. Brittany is the Executive Director of Lighthouse Recovery Institute. Ms. Ringersen is a Certified Addiction Professional who has been working in the addiction treatment industry for seven years. Lighthouse Recovery Institute is a medical based addiction treatment center.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit of your backstory?
When I was a sophomore in high school, I was scheduled to have a routine dental procedure done through my pediatric orthodontist. The plan was to remove three of my four wisdom teeth. I can still remember being under the influence of the “laughing gas” since going under regular anesthesia was not necessary. I vividly remember thoughts of being dead in that chair.
I woke up in a panic. My story and my efforts of opioid reform start here.
They begin here not just because I metaphorically died in a nitrous oxide hallucination in my dentist’s chair, but because of what happened when I left that physician’s chair. The dentist that had been treating my crooked little teeth for years handed me a 30-day supply of 5 mg Percocet’s.
No education was provided to my family, no follow up appointment was made regarding the un-used medication, no big fat warning label stating the possible addictive nature of those little pills, instead he merely handed them over.
Within 30 days I was using Roxicodone and OxyContin, which are basically like taking a lot of Percocet’s at once. I began snorting them regularly once I could ingest them without getting ill.
By the time, I was 17 years old, my nonchalant 30-day supply of pain medication for a routine dental procedure spiraled into an everyday opiate habit that was unable to be stopped until I sought professional help at 19 years old. I will celebrate ten years of sobriety in a few months!
Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work with opioid addiction?
I have lived on the front lines of addiction for a lot of my life. I have seen first-hand both professionally and personally, the devastation that this epidemic can produce. When I was 18 years old, my cousin lost his life due to an opioid overdose leaving two little children behind. My sister has struggled with drug addiction for my entire life and has been unwilling, to be honest about her mental health and substance use disorder. Her father was a heroin addict and died as a result. I have seen the ramifications of a life long battle with addiction in her life and the toll it has had on my mother. I have witnessed generational addiction, mental health disorders, and loss. I felt inspired to become involved with families to empower them to make a change within themselves and to realize that there are resources and support for them within their local community. To help individuals struggling with a substance use disorder realize that change is possible, and for their loved ones to not lose hope in that ideology, is my primary purpose.
Can you explain what brought us to this place? Where did this epidemic come from?
The epidemic problem stems from multiple sources. Though it might be easy to point the finger at the pharmaceutical industry, the heavy-handed doctors, the pain clinics, and pharmacies for the increase in opiate use the picture is incomplete without also including the lack of education surrounding drug addiction. The addictive potential of these substances is an aspect that many people either did not know, did not want to know, or never thought to ask. The focus moving forward should be more on inclusion and public education to shift the dialogue on more effective prevention efforts.
Can you describe how your work is making an impact battling this epidemic?
Lighthouse Recovery Institute impacts the battle of the epidemic by treating addiction through evidence-based modalities and long term individualized care. Our most significant impact is what in turn makes our agency and our staff unique. We understand that there can be substantial barriers to long term treatment and subscribe to the philosophy that therapy is not a cure-all for mental health and drug addiction. The recovery process itself is going to take time.
On a local level, we attempt to continue to keep patients and their families engaged in the sense of community.
Whether that community is here at Lighthouse Recovery Institute or their local municipality, our work is ongoing after the treatment episode ends.
By empowering alumni and their families to remain accountable to programs of improvement through support groups and other specialized recovery orientated programs, more extended periods of sobriety are evident, and families can share their experience, strength, and hope within their local communities.
Wow! Without sharing real names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your initiative?
One inspiring story that comes to mind is a patient we shall call Sally.
Sally arrived at our facility after struggling with drugs and alcohol for several years. Being well respected in her profession, she was committed to only completing a “few weeks of treatment.”
She possessed minimal concepts of long term sobriety, was clinically depressed and battled with extremely high anxiety.
She was fearful, scared and confused as she began to learn that she did not know who she was, without the drugs and alcohol.
Sally participated in the program for over six months completing various programs and levels of care. She was empowered to develop the necessary coping skills that at first were scary, but soon she craved.
Sally is coming up on a year of continuous sobriety! She continues to remain actively involved with our Alumni community, continues to take advantage of our aftercare services and has regained her standing in a professional capacity. Inspiring is an understatement!
Can you share something about your work makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?
Working with the patients and seeing the wide-spread, exponential impact of one individual in recovery is extremely uplifting.
When patients are committed to changing themselves the effects they can have on others is limitless.
From the positive impact they have on their family, friends, supports, and community is indeed the best aspect of the job.
I remember one case that a member of our team was working where the family was just at the ends of their rope with their son. They couldn’t fathom life without him, but couldn’t comprehend life with him if it were to continue the way it was going. We’ll call this patient John.
John was in his late 20’s and was addicted to heroin for the better part of a decade. When we received the call from his family, the situation was in dire straights, and the family had no idea what to do. The biggest concern from the family was the fear that he would not commit to treatment.
After an assessment with his family and closest supports, a phone call was made to John. To preface, John was very much into his drug addiction, and he was very desperate. I really couldn’t tell you exactly the details of the conversation or what word, in particular, struck the right chord with him, but at the end of that phone call John said, “yes I need help.”
All said and done John is doing very well now, back to work, living life sober and regularly comes back and speaks with our current patient population. The most fulfilling part was receiving a thank you call from him on his first clean anniversary, thanking our team for helping him find himself again.
Can you share three things that the community and society can do help you address the root of this problem? Can you give some examples?
The opioid epidemic is a significant health crisis in our country. However, just being informed about one particular aspect of addiction is a disservice to society as a whole. Three pieces of advice that I believe are most important to society that will help to address the root of the problem are being informed, seeking assistance from vetted and trusted professionals and learning to be your own best advocate.
Being informed is a broad statement and can encumber a variety of aspects.
Some specific examples that are also the most significant barriers are in regards to recognizing warning signs earlier of a potential substance use disorder, knowing what to do about that problem, finding and accessing quality help and what to do next.
Being more informed on understanding the latest drug trends, the signs of drug use, understanding about addiction as a disease, doing more in-depth research on the facility you are sending your loved one, understanding your benefits with health insurance coverage and that you can and should appeal — we could increase this list ad infinitum. The more informed the public is about these topics, the more proactive the community can be about prevention efforts and the more efficient access to quality care we can achieve.
Seeking assistance from vetted and quality professionals can be invaluable especially since having professionals involved in the process can provide another perspective that might be challenging to see for friends or family members. Instead of waiting for a crisis to occur and jumping on Google, do your research. Ask your doctor, ask your friends, find a local support group, but inquire from others and call ahead of time. Look at the credentials of the counselors. Look at the reviews of the psychiatrist. What type of therapies are part of the program at the drug and alcohol rehab? Are they promoting clinically based treatment or enticing patients with pictures of pools, music, and massage on their website? These are the fundamental concepts that individuals should know before making an emotional decision, which is usually when a crisis occurs.
Everyone should know that they have a voice. I always say, “You don’t know what you don’t know,” however when you know better you do better. I believe that speaks to society as a whole to seek education and make informed decisions about their future and general healthcare. Ask questions and be your advocate in getting the care you and your loved one deserve.
If you had the power to influence legislation, which three laws would you like to see introduced that might help you in your work?
If I had the power to create three laws to help individuals, I would introduce legislation that expands more funding for all states towards substance abuse and mental health resources. Individuals dependent on state resources often are expected to jump through several obstacles to be afforded a bed at a drug and alcohol facility. That lag time due to limited beds can lead to unfortunate results, such as death.
Another piece of legislation I would introduce would be for swift and harsh penalties for insurance companies for improper denials under Parity Law. Currently, the amount of oversight on the insurance payers is insufficient, and recourse from members and facilities is limited due to the immense resources the insurance companies have. They continue to cut treatment episodes for individuals who need it, pay less for services rendered, and deny services based on internal procedural codes with no level of transparency. Though they demand and expect transparency from the other parties. The idea of having immediate punitive consequences for the insurance companies for these violations would be a huge game changer for the American public.
A third law I would introduce would be that any licensed individual found to be involved in illegal and unscrupulous activity would lose their license to practice. In the last several years we have seen drug and alcohol treatment centers in the news for inducing patients to come to their facility.
These behaviors in some cases include tactics such as paying the patient to come to the facility. Unfortunately, many facilities continue to engage in these type of practices or paying kickbacks for referrals to fill their facility with patients. I would introduce a law that says the Doctor, the psychiatrists, the counselor’s and anyone else with a license involved in an agency engaging in illegal and harmful acts should be held accountable for violating their ethical oath.
It is time we take a stand and understand that we are dealing with life and death. The facilities who engage in these type of practices are all over the country. These practices are lowering the threshold of clinical care, are operating in a capacity where luring patients often unsuspectingly into their facility is their agenda, and have horrible outcomes — regardless of what their website self-reports.
The licensed staff should know the conduct going on at the facility and turning a blind eye would not be acceptable if I had the power to influence legislation.
I know that this is not easy work. What keep you going?
Being on on the firing lines every day is challenging.
I can imagine that in any organization there are going to be obstacles and hurdles that make it hard to accomplish goals.
In our case at Lighthouse Recovery Institute, our goal is multifaceted.
We strive to assist those who are addicted better their lives, empower the families with comprehensive support, educate the community to overcome a stigma they may have regarding mental health and substance use disorder, as well as the media and their portrayal of the addiction treatment industry.
Many things can go wrong at any given moment which can undo weeks or months of hard work in any of those areas.
Usually, those factors are outside of our control.
Nonetheless, the single most motivating factor and driving force of what keeps the team here at Lighthouse Recovery Institute and me going, are the success stories.
When individuals regain their standing in their families or achieve goals that they have set for themselves, those victories make it all worth it. Those are the moments that are clung to and regenerate the passion for what you do every single day.
Our clinical team here is incredible, and yes I might be a tad bias in that statement, but specifically, their unrelenting crusade to improve for those we serve. I am reinspired every day by the people that I have the luxury of working alongside.
Do you have hope that one day this leading cause of death can be defeated?
I do believe that one day we as a nation can overcome this opioid epidemic. By continuing to use evidenced-based treatment modalities, continuing to understand that jail is not the answer, by empowering and educating our communities on addiction as a disease and being proactive on our prevention efforts we can all work together to help solve this problem.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership to me is the ability to see the bigger picture or have a vision. A true leader possesses the skills and aptitudes of being able to convey that vision and how to obtain it, in a capacity that resonates. Simply barking orders or aimlessly drifting without direction, will be difficult to sustain interest. Real leadership is the ability to ignite passion not only in ourselves but in others.
“You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out. “– Steve Jobs
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
I can humbly admit regarding business and operations that I have made countless wrong turns along the way these last seven years.
Looking back the five most significant pieces of advice I wish someone had given me before I started were to embrace the mistakes, find a mentor, make great hires, learn to trust your intuition, and work smarter not harder.
Personally, embracing mistakes is something I do not think I could have learned without the growing pains of going through it. I have found that each time there was something that went wrong after identifying the solution and integrating it into the organization, both the agency and myself were stronger for it.
Finding someone who can share their experience and knowledge with you is an enormous opportunity to gain both professional and personal development. The first few years I struggled with learning how to find my voice as a CEO, especially in a male-dominated industry. I had hit many brick walls and at times felt discouraged due to gender roles. Having a strong female mentor from the beginning to seek guidance and supervision, I believe I could have been more prepared mentally and emotionally during those early days. Also, it just would have been nice to have someone to talk to that understood what all of the experiences felt like and advise how they were able to get through it.
Making great hires helps the organization run smooth, produces better outcomes and increases efficiency. Understanding that as an agency, we are only as strong as our weakest team member it is crucial that hires are an ideal fit for their positions. Looking for deficiencies or weaker areas within the company and making strong hires in those departments is a something I wish I had learned before I started.
The fourth piece of advice comes from Steve Job’s famous Stanford Commencement Speech, “Have the courage to follow your heart and own intuition.” There was a period where I began to let those concepts become drowned out by the opinions of others, and the result was reflective of that.
When I became empowered to listen to my instinct as a professional and as a CEO, the overall direction of the business became more intentional and strategic. I learned that I could continue to seek appropriate guidance and feedback, but at the end of the day, I needed to feel confident in the execution of the decisions.
Learning to trust my intuition has proved to be the single most significant shift in my professional career.
The number one piece of advice I wish someone had told me was to work smarter and not harder. This concept may seem like a novel idea, but I have spent more hours than I would like to admit looking down at my desk rather than looking up and into operations. Finding ways to streamline processes, staying organized, maximizing technology are all concepts that have increased efficiency.
Working smarter, in turn, has made more time available to staff to do what they do best — be with the individuals we serve.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
A movement that I would start would be one to help end the stigma associated with substance use disorder and mental health. The change would begin with compassion.
While most would attribute this as a personal ideology or an attribute that they live by, compassion is the first step towards liberation from the opiate epidemic. Insurance companies, families, society, institutions, the justice system, and other organizations do not necessarily lack compassion and understanding entirely.
However, there is vast room for improvement.
We understand that addiction is a disease and that we need to change our health care system as a whole to prevent individuals in need from falling through the cracks. This process can not begin to improve unless we as a society start to develop a deeper sense of responsibility and level of compassion for the problem.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Success in life is the result of good judgment. Good judgment is usually the result of experience. Experience is often the result of bad judgment.” Tony Robbins
Mistakes are a part of growing up and being human. At this point in my life, I have been a person in long term recovery for much longer than I was in active addiction. I have made many mistakes both in addiction and in sobriety. In business I have hit potholes, stop signs, curbs and ran out of gas on more than one occasion.
The lousy judgment calls have landed me in moments with my head in my hands questioning not only my direction but my purpose.
This quote resonates with me to my core. Those poor judgment calls of trusting others over my intuition or measuring once and cutting six times, as well as the laundry list of other mistakes I have made, resulted in me being the person I am today.
I believe that I had to get through all of those things to be the person I am now.
In order to possess the skill set and ability to have good judgment, I had to have all of those experiences which instilled in me determination, perseverance, and willingness never to give up.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
The thought of being able to choose anyone to have a meal with is probably the hardest question! Do I pick a legislator capable of making a real change in our divided country? A celebrity and do it for the picture on Instagram? Hey Beyoncé!
Or do I enjoy a meal with someone that most people have never heard of, but that has impacted my personal life on a deep level? I am going to say option 3.
Eric Thomas is a motivational speaker that entered my life and my headphones around ten years ago. Every week I could look forward to his weekly video, “Thank God it’s Monday!” His words, concepts, and actions have been a massive part of my professional and personal life.
He has inspired me to dream bigger, follow my passion, improve my health, and always push harder. I have grown up with this man by my side. My most significant moments, my scariest moments, and some of my best moments have all been in some way or another linked to his inspiring words.
To have lunch with Eric would be an incredible experience. Due to his own hard work and him leading by example, my life has improved, and I strive every day to do the same for others.
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