Tougher sober home rules back for another try

Tougher sober home rules back for another try

To hear Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein tell it, the city has become awash in what are called sober homes, but in reality are quite the opposite.

“It has gone from a rehabilitation model to a relapse model,” Glickstein said. “Relapse exceeds 80 percent. These people are cycled through these homes and when their money runs out they’re just kicked out onto our streets.”

And causing problems.

To deal with them, State Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, has reintroduced a bill to regulate sober homes. The new bill, much like the 2014 version, has four main features. If passed, it would:

Ask operators of sober homes to volunteer to be certified by the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Bar any rehab facility that receives state funding from sending patients to a sober home that has not been certified.

Require background checks of sober home operators.

Require the Department of Children and Families to publish a list of all certified facilities on its website.

The 2014 version passed the House 117-1, but failed in the Senate because of disputes between House and Senate leadership. With new leadership in both houses, Hager is confident that the state will finally regulate these facilities.

Think of a sober home as halfway house for people recently released from rehab. For a fee, the recently detoxed can get a room – often shared with roommates – in what would otherwise be a single-family home in a typical middle-class neighborhood.

Delray Beach has become awash in the homes, and Glickstein says that many have become a nuisance.

“Where we’re getting a problem is when bad actors come in and you see entire streets transformed from single-family or low-density apartments to a block of sober homes,” Glickstein said. “So the person that was living in a single-family home now has seen the residency on that street quadruple, into a very transient population… Drug dealers prey on sober homes, bringing that traffic into neighborhoods that had never seen it.”

It’s the first point of Hager’s bill, voluntary certification, that has Glickstein worried.

“On one level, anything is better than nothing, but the voluntary nature of that is troubling. If you look at any other business that is part of the medical industry, they are highly regulated businesses and industries,” Glickstein said. “Self-policing of an industry that we’ve seen go off the tracks this badly is just incredible.

But Hager maintains the second part of the bill, mandating that state-funded rehab centers only send patients to certified sober homes, would put teeth in the voluntary certification.

“We believe [rehab centers that receive state funding] will constitute about 85 percent of referrals,” he said.

The new bill does feature two changes from the previous, failed effort. The new bill would specifically characterize as insurance fraud wrongful claims filed by sober homes, and it would also ban the practice of rehab centers getting kickbacks from sober homes for referring patients there.

Both Hager and Glickstein were quick to add there were good sober homes run by well-meaning operators intent on rehabilitation. But both also said the worst facilites had grown completely out of control.

Although Glickstein welcomed the renewed effort in Tallahassee, he added that work needed to be done at the federal level as well.

“There’s no definition of sober home, no interpretation of the laws relative to this problem,” Glickstein said. “They didn’t exist when the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act were formulated. We need these things to be defined so we don’t have to worry about getting sued for discrimination anytime we bring it up.”

dsweeney@sun-sentinel.com, 954-356-4605 or Twitter @Daniel_Sweeney

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Bill Hager for State Representative