First of all, how are you and your Family doing in these COVID-19 Times?
Andrew McWilliams: My family is doing well. With two younger children, I’m amazed at how resilient they are during these unprecedented times. We obviously had to make adjustments to our schedules to accommodate remote learning. One of the silver linings is that we’ve had the opportunity to spend more quality family time together, which I’ve really enjoyed.
Tell us about you, your Career, how you joined American Addiction Centers
Andrew McWilliams: My path to the CEO seat is a little unusual because I’m an auditor by training. Prior to coming to American Addiction Centers, I spent most of my career as an auditor/advisor to some of the nation’s top healthcare companies. As a result, I was exposed to many different healthcare sectors, including behavioral, acute, long-term acute care, home health, and technology companies. I brought this diverse experience to AAC when I joined in 2014 as chief accounting officer. I was promoted to chief financial officer in 2018, and most recently appointed CEO in 2020.
I’ve always been very passionate about the disease of addiction and consider it an honor to lead an organization that is transforming lives every day. In addition, the addiction industry is a very fragmented sector of healthcare that hasn’t been aggregated yet, and I believe AAC has the opportunity to change that as one of the largest providers and leaders in this space.
How does American Addiction Centers Innovate?
Andrew McWilliams: Our passion for revolutionizing the treatment of addiction is what drives our innovation. We have invested our resources in the latest technology solutions and diagnostic testing to support clinical innovation. We are one of the few treatment providers to operate our lab and offer pharmacogenetics to our patients for personalized medicine. Our ability to innovate in the ever-changing healthcare climate was never more evident than during this pandemic. In a matter of weeks, we were able to reconfigure our lab to offer COVID-19 testing for our patients, staff, and the broader healthcare community. Our facilities were also able to implement telehealth services for the first time, which allowed us to expand our services from eight states to now over 40. We refused to let the virus be a barrier to people accessing life-saving treatment, and our ability to innovate has been critical during these unprecedented times.
How the Coronavirus Pandemic affects your Business, and how are you coping?
Andrew McWilliams: We are committed to providing access to life-saving treatment during this pandemic. It’s critical that the virus is not a barrier to care, especially when overdose deaths are on the rise.
While COVID-19 is a serious infectious disease, the disease of addiction continues to be far more deadly. As a result, we’ve taken extra precautions to keep our patients and staff safe.
We’ve implemented the following new safety protocols:
● 3 stage symptomatology screenings prior to admission
● COVID-19 testing for patients upon admission to our facilities
● Redesigned admissions flow to reduce exposure of potentially positive patients
● Health Protection Committee (HPC) added at each facility
In addition to these new safety protocols, we’ve also had to navigate workforce challenges, accelerate our plans for telehealth services, and network outside of the normal supply chain to ensure personal protective equipment for our staff.
While the demand for addiction treatment services has increased, we did experience a decline in the number of patients we were able to help inside of our facilities while we implemented our new safety protocols and designated isolation beds. At the same time, the cost of delivering care has increased.
As with any business, once you understand the new norm, you can adjust to it and learn to thrive. We have continued to adjust and remain open at a time when some treatment centers have been forced to close their doors. I’m incredibly proud of our staff and their commitment to serve our patients in the midst of the pandemic.
Did you have to make Difficult Choices, and what are the Lessons Learned?
Andrew McWilliams: We’ve absolutely had to make some difficult decisions. Every day, we’re balancing between keeping patients and employees as safe as possible and maintaining access to care and appropriate census levels at a time when people need us most. We’re dealing with two health crises that are both deadly diseases.
There are two valuable lessons we’ve learned or reinforced during this time:
● In the midst of adversity, collaboration and trust within an internal organization is the key to resiliency
● Collaboration with state, local and federal agencies are essential for fostering effective lines of communication during challenge times
How do you deal with Stress and Anxiety, how do you Project yourself and American Addiction Centers in the Future?
Andrew McWilliams: Whenever I feel personally stressed or experiencing anxiety in my life, I just focus on the next step forward and not the whole staircase. Don’t worry about what’s going to happen in the next 10 steps, instead concentrate on what you can control at the moment. I’m also a strong believer that every problem has a solution. You just have to keep your head down, get to work, and keep at it. You will eventually figure it out.
If there is one thing that Covid has taught us, it’s that behavioral healthcare organizations need access to rapid infectious disease testing. Whether it’s for Covid or the next novel virus, we must be prepared to remain open and provide vital services during times of crisis. As we’ve experienced with this virus, more people are reaching out for help because stress, isolation, and anxiety are triggers for relapse, and people turn to substances to cope. We need to be able to offer treatment in a safe environment, and part of that includes access to rapid testing and funding for these tests.
Who are your Competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the Game?
Andrew McWilliams: Addiction is such an underserved market that we actually need more large, high-quality treatment providers in this space. Unfortunately, the majority of people who need treatment never get it. We must work together to change that. With an influx of several larger providers across the country, we have the opportunity to raise the bar for clinical excellence in our industry, similar to what we’ve seen with other healthcare sectors.
Your Final Thoughts
Andrew McWilliams: While COVID-19 has certainly caused challenges for the industry, it’s also brought the much needed attention to the importance of behavioral healthcare services during times like this. The expansion of telehealth services across state lines is one promising example. We can only hope we can continue with this level of progress. I remain optimistic about the future. Addiction treatment is not an ancillary service, and the pandemic has proven it’s a lifeline for so many people who desperately need it.
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