Rehab Southern California Style: Trouble In Paradise

(A follow-up to the previous posting Spring Break: Rehab Southern California Style.)

The high end rehab resorts in Malibu, California seem to be coming under fire according to the October 9th edition of the Los Angeles Times in an article titled “The trouble with rehab, Malibu-style” by Paul Pringle:

Hollywood rehab can produce unhappy endings, even when the patient isn’t named Lindsay or Britney.

That’s what Kelly Logan learned when he sought treatment for a methamphetamine addiction at Promises Malibu, detox destination to the stars.

Logan’s brother, Garfield, says he paid $42,000 up front to admit the former professional surfer for a month at Promises’ canyon-top Mediterranean-style home. Five days later, he says, Promises kicked Logan out for belligerent behavior but kept all the money.

“They’re scam artists,” said Garfield Logan, a plaintiff in one of four consumer-rights, breach-of-contract and unfair-business-practice lawsuits filed against Promises Malibu and its Westside branch in the last year. Promises has denied the allegations.

Since we have been bombarded with news of celebrities entering “rehab” for the past couple of years it was inevitable that at some point we would learn more about the less than glamorous side of this business.  The article by Pringle goes on to describe claims of price gouging, giving as one example the fact that court filings indicate that the Promises facility charges roughly twice the $23,000 monthly fee that the Betty Ford Center charges for a one month stay, and unlike the Betty Ford Center, Promises is not a licensed medical facility or affiliated with a licensed medical facility.  Of course the Betty Ford Center, as are all mainstream rehabilitation organizations is a non-profit, not the case for many if not all of the Malibu area facilities, which may be returning a tidy profit to their business owners.

The rehab facilities centered in Malibu seem to be shaping up as a very lucrative cottage industry, lucrative for both the operators of the facilities and the small coterie of medical professionals, who seem to moonlight at multiple facilities in the area, earning multiple pay checks.  But the medical aspect of the services offered by these facilities have gotten them in to trouble with state of California regulators, as Pringle reports:

Promises, Passages and other Malibu rehab firms have identified on their websites a number of psychiatrists and other physicians as staff members, even though the centers are not licensed to provide medical care.

Instead, they are limited to offering services such as detox monitoring that does not require medical treatment; group and individual counseling; and addiction education, state officials say. Over the last few years, Promises and several other centers that do business in Malibu have been cited by state regulators for providing medical services outside the scope of their licenses.

Until recently, the Promises website said the center had a medical staff led by Jack Kuo, director of psychiatry; and Robert Saltzman, medical director. The site no longer refers to a medical staff, and it describes Kuo and Saltzman as “independent affiliates” with the title “independent detox specialist.”

The changes occurred after The Times inquired about Promises’ operations. The center did not respond to questions about the physicians, and attempts to interview Kuo and Saltzman were unsuccessful…

Two doctors, Robert Waldman and M. David Lewis, have been listed as staff internist and psychiatrist, respectively, and sometimes “addictionologist,” on the websites of at least three of the 11 centers that run rehab houses in the Malibu area. Renaissance Malibu described Lewis as an “adjunct” staffer; Waldman was listed as the “medical director” of Cliffside Malibu, but his staff designation has been changed on the website to “M.D./detox.”

The claims made by the operators of these luxury facilities seem to be too good to all be true:

Passages says on its website that it has the “highest cure rate in the country” and is “renowned as the most successful alcohol rehab and drug treatment center in the world for many reasons.”

…Prentiss says his center eliminates dependencies by treating their underlying causes — depression and anxiety, for example — through intensive one-on-one therapy. Passages also disdains Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-step program, which Promises and other Malibu centers have adopted or adapted.

…Addiction researchers have criticized Passages for saying that it cures patients. “A cure? That’s pretty good,” Scott Walters, a University of Texas School of Public Health professor, said facetiously. Walters co-wrote a landmark 2001 study on treatment success rates. “People have been making claims about successful treatment since the dawn of time, since the snake-oil salesmen,” he said.

“Anybody can make any claim they want and get away with it,” Walters said. “It’s essentially an unregulated industry.”

A facility that gives no credence to the proven principles of Alcoholics Anonymous, infers they provide intensive medical/psychiatric therapy, while under a limited license to operate, but, according to Pringle of the Los Angeles Times: offers multiple mansions; marbled baths; 65-inch flat-screen televisions; and massage, acupuncture and hypnotherapy rooms, begins to smell and look like a lot of smoke and mirrors.

Full payment is required up front by the Malibu facilities, with no refund policies:

Many of the Malibu firms typically demand a month’s payment in advance and refuse to refund any portion if the patient leaves treatment early or is expelled. No-refund policies at more traditional centers often apply to just part of the fee — $5,000 in the case of Betty Ford, for example.

“If you leave, your money stays,” said Passages co-founder Chris Prentiss, who added that the center immediately resells the vacated bed — the monthly cost is $67,550 — and that returning patients must wait for the next opening. Their payment stays on account, he said.

The paid in full upfront/no refund policies, as experienced by Tucky Masterson is just another example that these facilities are not motivated by any altruistic values, but more likely a pure profit motive:

Tucky Masterson said she wasn’t in her right mind when she paid about $35,000 for a month at Promises. “I was on heroin,” she said.

Masterson left Promises after two stays that totaled about a week, according to a suit she filed in 2003. She said she eventually received $15,000 in a settlement, minus legal fees.

“I was treated at Hazelden — I was there for three days — and they charged me to the penny for those three days,” said Masterson, 48, who runs a sobriety house for women in Huntington Beach. “With Promises, I had to fight tooth and nail to get any money back.”

Our recommendation: If you have plenty of disposable income, and you would like a nice luxurious get-away from your normal grind, do consider a Malibu rehabilitation resort, they really are Five Star facilities.  On the other hand, if you have a real problem with addictive behavior, and you are just a typical working stiff, this neighborhood is not for you.

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2 Responses to Rehab Southern California Style: Trouble In Paradise

  1. ms. place says:

    As long as the food is good and the exercise equipment is well oiled and in working condition, who can complain? It is well known that Promises is a vacation resort for those who want to detox. If you are serious about curing yourself permanently of addiction, not merely lip syncing your wishes, then you simply don’t go there. You choose a facility that means business. I can’t recall that a single “star” who entered and left Promises was “cured,” but they all seemed well rested and pampered after the experience.

  2. Big Fella says:

    The whole idea of “celebrity rehab” is bogus to me. When word gets out in the case of many of these people that they have comitted themselves to rehab, I just think, ah, doing a little PR work are we?

    If they are doing it at a Malibu facility, its just a nice vacation with a certain cachet. When they go out of town, for an extended stay, cut-off from their old haunts and habits, and cut off from the media, then maybe they are serious.

    I seriously doubt that rehab has helped improve Mel Gibson in any shape or fashion. And I seriously doubt that a rehab facility focussed on substance abuse, is going to help any backwards bigot change their stripes, Michael Richard.

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