DUI treatment: For second year, bill attempts to separate treatment from probation supervision

DUI treatment providers are once again pushing a bill that would bar Colorado private probation companies from also providing chemical dependency treatment to an individual client. The question of whether doing both, or having a financial interest in companies that do both, is a conflict of interest was the subject of an August cover story, "Blow Back."

We caught up with psychologist Karen Moreau about why she and others decided to introduce a bill this year after a similar measure failed in 2012.

"We have everything to lose if we don't," she says.

Moreau is a member of Treatment Providers Alliance of Colorado, or TPAC. The organization was formed after Front Range treatment providers realized that a private probation company called Rocky Mountain Offender Management Systems, or RMOMS, had begun providing DUI treatment. Moreau and other providers say their clients reported that RMOMS was pressuring them to use RMOMS for their counseling, too.

But their concerns went beyond professional competition. Several treatment providers said they felt RMOMS counseling clients would be less likely to admit their substance-use mistakes for fear that their counselor would tell their RMOMS probation case manager. Talking about one's struggles is an important part of the counseling, providers believe. "Clients say, 'I'm not going to talk about my personal life or open up when I might get put in jail,'" Tammy Lovejoy-Teixeira, a counselor and owner of Horizon Counseling and Education Center in Lakewood, told us last summer.

RMOMS was initially denied a treatment license. By way of explanation, the state Division of Behavioral Health, or DBH, cited the "inherent conflict" in providing both treatment services and probation supervision.

But owner Dan Beeck fought the denial, and DBH eventually came to a settlement with him that stipulated that RMOMS could no longer treat clients who were under its probation supervision. It could, however, treat DUI offenders supervised by other entities.

But Beeck still wasn't satisfied, and he eventually asked DBH to lift the restriction. Instead, he says the division suggested he split his probation supervision and his treatment services into two separate businesses. So in February 2012, he applied for an entirely new treatment license under a new company name: 1st Alliance Treatment Services.

DBH initially granted 1st Alliance a provisional license, pending a review of the company. Spokeswoman Liz McDonough reports that 1st Alliance now has thirteen locations; eleven have full, three-year licenses and two have provisional licenses.

While Beeck was applying for a new treatment license, other treatment providers were figuring out a way to prevent him -- and other private probation companies -- from providing DUI treatment to the very same people they were supervising. To that end, supportive lawmakers introduced a bill that would keep the two separate.

The bill hit a fatal snag in the House Economic and Business Development Committee. Lawmakers questioned whether there was indeed a conflict of interest or whether the bill was a way for treatment providers to gang up on Beeck and put him out business. Committee members killed the bill in an eleven-to-one vote.

But several treatment providers are trying again. This year's bill, known as SB 239, says "an entity that provides probation or case management oversight services to a defendant cannot also provide offender the same defendant or hold a financial interest in an entity that provides such...treatment." It also prohibits private probation from "directing a probationer it supervises to a particular treatment provider."

And unlike last year's bill, it outlines sanctions for companies that violate the rules: a warning for a first violation, license suspension for a second violation and license revocation for a third violation. "That puts a little bit of teeth into it," Moreau says.

Moreau says the bill is needed because she and others still hear about probation companies, including RMOMS, pressuring clients to go to a certain treatment provider.

"We're not trying to put him out of the probation business," Moreau says of Beeck. "What we're trying to stop is the manipulation, exploitation and undue influence on...people who have the right to choose (where they go for treatment)."

The bill -- which is on view below -- was introduced late in the legislative session on March 26. It hasn't yet had its first hearing in committee. Stay tuned for updates.

SB 239

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar

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