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Hungry to Get Better: Part 1

Written by Andrew Le, MD

PublishedOctober 9, 2021

Welcome to the CEO Corner, where Buoy CEO and Co-founder Andrew Le, MD sits down with industry leaders to chat about the provocative topics of healthcare today. Andrew recently spoke with Colleen Nicewicz, CEO of Groups Recover Together, an organization delivering holistic opioid addiction recovery services. They discuss the joy of making an impact on people’s lives, the hidden challenge of de-stigmatizing mental health care, and ways to support employees working in a demanding environment.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Andrew Le, MD: The work you're doing is so important. Can you tell us how you got to be the CEO of Groups Recover Together?

Colleen Nicewicz: I've been CEO of Groups for a little over two years. Prior to Groups, I spent the better part of six years at Athena Health, a healthcare IT company in the Boston area. I was responsible for several corporate initiatives including strategic planning and goal setting as well as the sale of the company to an activist investor in 2018. I started my career in consulting, largely focused in healthcare.

Throughout my career, I’ve gotten closer and closer to patient care. What excited me about Groups was working for such a powerfully mission-driven organization. Two years in, it's even more energizing and empowering than I expected. This organization very thoughtfully aligns incentives between member care and how we run the business. Everything we do is member first.

A Groups Recover Together in-person clinic in Burlington, MA. Image courtesy of Groups Recover Together. https://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/groups-recover-together-sees-great-success-treating-opioid-use-disorder-telehealth

Andrew: What do you enjoy most in your day-to-day work? When do you feel like you're in flow?

Colleen: First, I love hearing our members’ stories. Now that so much of our care is delivered virtually, I can sit in on many of the virtual counseling sessions that we're delivering. I see the significant impact our incredible staff has on people's lives. They are saving lives daily. If that's not something to get out of bed for every day, I don't know what it is.

Another thing that's been motivating for me is how hungry this organization is to get better. It’s incredibly refreshing to be in the mindset of, "Where can we provide a higher-quality service or do something a little bit better?" Once we make changes, it's validating to see the impact. One big initiative we are working on this year is speeding time to treatment. We know that when somebody is battling addiction, getting treatment right away can be life or death.

We decided to offer all our intakes within one business day. It's inspiring to see the organization rally around this effort. The impact has been significant. When we’re able to get people in the door faster, they show up, engage, and respond well to treatment.

Andrew: How does this kind of work compare to your corporate and consulting days?

Colleen: At Athena Health, we believed we were making healthcare work as it should and unbreaking everything that was broken. But being a provider of care—while it absolutely has its challenges—is so rewarding in terms of the direct impact we are making.

Andrew: It would be interesting to hear what's keeping you up at night, Colleen, with everything on your plate.

Colleen: One positive thing that has come out of the pandemic is that now, more than ever before, there is a spotlight on the importance of mental health and behavioral health. There is a focus on destigmatizing much of what historically has been stigmatized. That is creating a huge demand for a labor market that was already in short supply. One of the things that keeps me up at night is thinking about how we are going to find enough people who can deliver care as quickly and as holistically as we need.

At Groups, we want to be the best place for people to work. We want to make sure our staff love our clinical model, have a great support system, a strong benefits package, and adequate compensation for their work—which has not always been the case in behavioral health. Part of being a member-focused organization is also being an awesome place to work.

"...now, more than ever before, there is a spotlight on the importance of mental health and behavioral health."

Colleen Nicewicz, CEO of Groups Recover Together

Andrew: I can imagine that helping people recover from addiction is a tough job. Do you think about the mental health of your own employees?

Colleen: We think about it a lot. You're right; it is hard to help our members navigate recovery. We want to make sure our clinical staff are at their best all the time. We support our staff by surrounding them with leaders they can speak with about what's been difficult and how to handle challenging clinical situations. We also started working with Ginger this year to give our entire employee base a mental health benefit.

Andrew: That's great. We had an opportunity to interview one of the co-founders of Ginger.

Digital access to companies like Ginger give employees the ability to take charge of their mental well being. Image courtesy of Ginger. https://www.ginger.com/business

Colleen: It’s a terrific organization. Now all our employees have access to behavioral health services like therapy as the need arises. At the same time, we make sure that people can step away and take a mental health day when they need to.

In Part 2 of the conversation, Colleen talks about the biggest surprise of the pandemic and her company’snew hybrid model of care. She also shares her wish for the future of addiction treatment.

About the participants:

Colleen Nicewicz is the CEO of Groups Recover Together, an organization delivering opioid addiction recovery services that are proven to help individuals get their lives back on track.

Andrew Le, MD, is the CEO and Cofounder of Buoy Health.