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September 2006

 With a Pared Down Model of Care, Mark Houston Launches a Non-Clinical Retreat

Over the years, Mark Houston has gained a lot of experience working in the addiction treatment industry, first as an executive at La Hacienda, one of the state of Texas' most successful private, for-profit substance abuse ventures, and then as CEO of Burning Tree Recovery Ranch, another successful Texas center. But while working as a treatment executive, Houston began to get the sense that there was a need for a new kind of facility, one that was not a treatment center in the traditional or even the licensed sense, but one that would nevertheless fill a gap that Houston perceived as needing to be filled.

So, in July, Houston opened the first of what he hopes will be many Mark Houston Recovery Centers across the nation. Located on a sprawling $1.4 million ranch outside of the state capital of Austin, the initial Mark Houston center caters to a specific kind of clientele using a very non-traditional model, one that stresses longer term care and offers a non-clinical approach within a recovery environment.

And the model that Houston is using is increasingly gaining adherents across the nation, among the pioneers of the approach being The Retreat, a successful nonprofit run by former Hazelden executive John Curtiss. Mark Houston's Austin recovery center, like The Retreat, is not a licensed facility. Houston wished to avoid the mountains of expensive paperwork that go with state licensure. As a result, the target market for those at Mark Houston are those who have been through primary care at least once who have relapsed. "We believe that there is a strong and growing market for facilities that offer a long-term, highly structured sober living experience," says Houston, who developed strong expertise with relapse from Burning Tree Ranch, which has a highly regarded special program that focuses on chronic relapsers.

As part of its November 2005 Special Report: The Challenge of Keeping Care Affordable, Treatment Magazine described a recovery model that was developed by John Curtiss for The Retreat. "There's little need for education or assessment here," Curtiss told the magazine. "Just a place where the tools of recovery can be made available in an environment where recovery can blossom. We are just a different level of care for a particular class of addict." Mark Houston's philosophy is similar.

Similar Philosophies

"We very much wanted to get costs down so that we could offer longterm, 90-day care at prices that would be comparable to 30 day stays at high-end centers. And we wanted to provide an experience that would ground our clients in the basics of recovery based on the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous," says Houston. But the pricing structures of The Retreat, which is a non-profit and has as one of its avowed aims to deliver affordable care, and Mark Houston, which is for-profit, are very different.

The Retreat charges $3,600 for a 30-day stay, but relies very heavily on donations to its foundation to fund the maintenance of the facility on the outskirts of Minneapolis in which it is housed. Mark Houston, on the other hand, charges $7,000 a month, is very much a for-profit entity and is targeting a high-end private pay demographic. Houston is a 50 percent owner of Mark Houston Recovery Centers, with a silent partner financial backer owning the other 50 percent. "There has been a very significant financial investment made in the venture," says Houston, adding that there are plans to take the model national with other centers throughout the country if the Austin site proves successful. "Before I'm done, I'd like to see eight or ten of these centers scattered across the nation," says Houston, adding he is actively talking to investors on that score.

Expansion of 54-Acre Property

And he is already engaged in a large scale expansion of the 54 acre Austin property, which currently has 24 beds located in the main house. Within the next three months, Houston says he will be breaking ground on a 10,000 square foot, $2 million new facilities build that when finished in 2007 will bring the center's capacity up to 64 beds. Open just a few months, Houston has already managed to fill 15 of the 24 beds, so there appears to be good demand for his unique model of care at the price point he has established."We've had plenty of experience with conventional models of care, and if we come across clients that need that, that's where we send them," says Houston. "We very much look like a treatment center, but without the clinical piece, it's just that simple."

Addiction is a Chronic Disase

Pointing out that he is an admirer of CRC Health Group CEO Barry Karlin's effort to promote a chronic disease model of care for the treatment industry, Houston sees his new center is a critical part of efforts within the treatment profession to develop different continuums of care. "We offer the only 90 day program in Texas," says Houston, adding that he wishes there would have been a center like Mark Houston around when he was entering recovery many years ago. "The kind of model we are offering here, a long-term non-clinical recovery retreat, is an idea whose time has come," he says. TJ

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