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Interview with Recovery Unplugged’s Chief Operating Officer Rachel Jackson, LMHC

Hey Rachel! Thanks for joining me. I’m excited to hear more about you and your role at Recovery Unplugged. To start, what’s your background?

I’m a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in the State of Florida. I started in this field with a passion for psychology and began on the ground level as a direct care staff member and a therapist. Then I worked my way up to different management positions to get where I am right now.

I started as a therapist at a Medicaid clinic in South Florida, then transitioned to community mental health, where I worked as a therapist for high-risk or HIV-positive individuals in the community. I mainly worked with the LGBTQ+ community and was fueled by feeling like I could make a difference in someone’s life.

I also did a lot of education in the jail system, safe sex education in the community, and HIV testing for the community.

What do you currently do at Recovery Unplugged?

I’m the Chief Operating Officer.

What does a Chief Operating Officer do?

I mainly oversee the Executive Directors of all of our facilities. I help to ensure we have positive client outcomes and that our business is moving in the right direction.

Can you tell me a little more about your time at Recovery Unplugged?

I’ve been with Recovery Unplugged since 2017. I started in utilization review and became the manager of that department.

I also helped open our inpatient facility in Lake Worth, Florida, and then Nashville, where I live now. I was the Executive Director there for about a year and a half until I transitioned to Director of Compliance and then to the role I’m in now.

Tell me about yourself!

I have a spouse, and we’ve been married since 2018. I have two children. My daughter Avery is three and a half, and her birthday is on Halloween. My son Ryder is eight months old, and he was almost a holiday baby, born on July 5th. We also have two dogs.

What is your favorite part of the work that you do now?

I enjoy seeing the change in our clients and improving our outcomes every year. In the last two years, we made it to almost 5 million days sober between all of our alumni. I love working at a program that I can be proud of, and I truly believe our clinical program is one of the best in the country.

Our staff has a ton of passion for the clients. I just got back from a trip to Austin, Texas, to visit our facilities there. I spoke with some of the clients, who said, “this is the best place I’ve ever been.”

I read every single client survey we have, which we take seriously and utilize to improve our programs.

The surveys show that we are really making a difference in people’s lives, and as much as I am responsible for a lot of the financial aspects of our business, that’s what keeps me grounded.

I am a clinician at heart. So I enjoy being a part of that change and knowing how many lives we’ve impacted, not just our clients but their families too.

Recently one of our clients passed away, and his wife was so grateful for his experience that in lieu of flowers, she chose our company to receive donations for other people to have a scholarship for treatment.

It is amazing when I sit and think about the ripple effect of treating someone’s substance use disorder or mental health and how many thousands of lives we can touch just with that one person.

You mentioned you were a therapist. How has your experience as a clinician helped you in your current role at Recovery Unplugged?

I think it has helped me to have a well-rounded skillset for the position that I’m in.

This year is our 10th anniversary of being open as a company. I think I can speak for the executive leadership team by saying we’re not just focused on the numbers.

We know that everything will follow suit if we create a good program and continue to strive to be better.

We are focused on the patient experience. We want long-term positive outcomes for our clients, and that is why we’re so successful in where we are today and why we will be here ten years from now.

How do you define patient success?

Long-term sobriety and positive treatment outcomes are our main indicators of success as a business.

How do you track that?

We have a robust alumni program that stays in touch with our clients after they leave treatment. During the first year, they check in at least once a month and then continue to regularly check in after they have achieved one year of sobriety.

We also track Evidenced-Based Assessments while an individual is in our care to ensure their anxiety, depression, and sobriety are improving. We have had Universities complete studies on our program models and third-party companies analyze our patient data.

Can you talk about some of the benefits of treatment for someone considering it?

Research shows that being in a structured environment and following a continuum of care leads to greater chances of success or long-term sobriety. Treatment allows you to learn and practice a multitude of skills all at once which gives you a better chance for success.

You will receive individual and group psychotherapy where you learn important coping skills like being able to manage emotional dysregulation and triggers for stressors that you have in life. It’s important to have the tools and know what to do when these situations arise, which often causes people to either decline in their mental health or pick up and use again.

At Recovery Unplugged, we are very big proponents of Medication Assisted Treatment. We offer all different types of MAT and provide education to our clients and their families about which ones are best for their situation. We have been using Vivitrol for many years and recently have been able to prescribe more Sublocade to our clients.

Overall, treatment is better than just going to see a therapist or a nurse practitioner who can prescribe medication or just going to a psychiatrist for psychiatric meds. It gives you everything together in one place.

We use an integrated care approach, which is very rare in the behavioral health space because it’s very difficult to do successfully.

One of my favorite things about working with CARMAHealth is that clients leave Recovery Unplugged and they can continue to see the providers that they built rapport with while they were in treatment.

What’s new right now at Recovery Unplugged?

This week we opened our newest IOP in New Jersey, and we’ve “broken ground” in a new state. This is the fifth state in that we offer our treatment services and we are excited to continue growing.

Also, this year we are looking at expanding our Virginia territory. We currently have an outpatient program with PHP and IOP, but we are looking at opening an inpatient facility there as well.

We’ve also been getting contracted with Medicaid. Currently, we have a Medicaid contract in Tennessee and Virginia, and very soon, we’ll be able to take Medicaid at our Florida and Texas facilities.

We’re excited to take on these new contracts to be able to expand our services to anyone and everyone who needs treatment.

What would you do if money were no object?

We talk about that all the time! Number one, we would literally treat everybody that we could. We would open up treatment centers everywhere! I wouldn’t even say we would hire better staff because we already have great staff.

I would improve our ability to utilize data to impact a person’s outcome. Recently, we partnered with an AI company to create predictive analytics based on the raw data that we have from 10,000 people that we’ve treated since the company’s inception.

I’d love to spend more money on things like that to improve treatment outcomes. Being able to change the trajectory of a client’s treatment is groundbreaking.

How do you manage patient information, and how does that help you offer better services?

That goes hand in hand with data analytics. We partner with local universities to have a third party utilize our data and be the ones that do the analysis to have an unbiased look at what we’re doing, and then we make changes based on what the outcomes are.

We also partner with Nova Southeastern University. They did a longitudinal study at our Fort Lauderdale location many years ago and they are currently in round two of a brand-new study.

Let’s talk about what it’s like to work at Recovery Unplugged.

How do you approach fostering a positive and productive company culture? And what steps have you taken in your current role to achieve that?

I’m the first female to be in the c-suite at Recovery Unplugged, and I’m very proud of that. We foster a culture of transparency and positivity with an open-door policy.

I never want to create a workspace where people don’t feel like they can be open with the challenges they’re having in their roles or personal lives. I try to be very approachable and I want to bridge the gap between executive leadership and our direct care staff.

When I was in Texas at the beginning of this week, I talked with the clients, therapists, techs, and everyone on the ground floor. I want to foster a positive environment that is focused on client care.

I also want to prioritize efficient processes. I was previously the Director of Compliance, so making things very efficient and compliant is an initiative of mine. I never want someone’s job role or responsibility not to make sense.

Our company went from being this little mom-and-pop feel to a large corporation where we have over 400 employees, and we’re now in five states. I want to hear people’s concerns so they can focus more on their responsibilities and create a conducive environment for the clients to improve.

What does Recovery Unplugged do to support employees?

At one of our locations, we have specific AA or NA meetings for employees in recovery. This year, at some of our locations, we are piloting having a therapist or a group once per month for all frontline employees.

Our employees deal with the trauma of taking on the client’s issues, which can be heartbreaking and stressful, so that could help them to decompress.

In addition, we do little things like Rock Star of the Month, where at each location, we identify one employee that really went above and beyond, and we call them our Rock Star of the Month. They get their picture up on the wall, an extra day of PTO, and lunch with their Executive Director.

We love to show our appreciation for our staff who are positively impacting our facilities.

What do you think the future at Recovery Unplugged looks like two, five, or ten years from now?

If you asked our CEO Andrew Sossin, he would say that within the next ten years, we will become an international company. He’s always dreamed of opening Recovery Unplugged in another country.

I would say we would be a household name and continue to add more programs in each state to continue impacting more lives. This is a huge reason we remain focused on the mission and allow our data to drive our decisions.

We are realistic in our goals, do not get ahead of ourselves, stay focused on our program’s quality, and just keep growing organically.

Will you continue expanding to different states, or are you trying to stay in one area of the country?

We’re really looking to expand our outpatient programs. We found through the pandemic that we had to go virtual for many of our programs with people not being able to be in person, having limited group sizes, etc.

We found that being able to continue treating people while they return to their home life was a huge opportunity.

Could you tell me about how Recovery Unplugged utilizes music for patient care?

We utilize music as a catalyst for vulnerability. Music, to me, is a universal communication. It doesn’t matter what race, culture, or identity you are. We all connect to something, right?

Connection is such an important piece of behavioral health treatment, and music is the fastest medicine to get someone connected to someone else or a feeling.

We personalize the music for the clients from start to finish. During the clients’ pre-screen, before they even come here, we ask them what their favorite music and song are, and when picking up that client, we play that music in the car, and it’s like it’s an immediate connection to individualized care.

If we don’t pick them up, we’ll play it in the intake room while they come in. We try our hardest to make someone comfortable in an uncomfortable situation from the moment we see them.

The prescription of music, if you will, and how quickly it can change how you feel, think, and connect you to someone is mind-blowing.

So, now I have to ask, what’s your favorite music?

I am eclectic, but I will tell you some of my favorites because it’s hard to pick one.

I love a good 70’s mix and some Motown songs. I also like 2000’s rap and I am definitely a country music fan, but I also like classic rock!! So again, it kind of depends on how I feel.

Can you tell me about the affirming care you provide for patients in the LGBTQ+ community?

Sure! Number one, we use preferred pronouns. We also house clients based on their gender identity.

We have a lot of transgender clients, and we ask them what is the most comfortable for them because sometimes they’re early in their journey. We really try to meet the client where they’re at.

We categorize ourselves as a safe space; we don’t tolerate discrimination from employees or clients.

Thank you so much for sharing today, Rachel!

It was a pleasure, thank you!

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