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Julie Miller

Addiction & Mental Health Writer

Last Update on August 28, 2023

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With its sun-kissed beaches and serene landscapes, Florida might seem like an idyllic setting for healing and recovery.

Over the years, it has become a hotspot for rehabilitation centers, attracting thousands seeking a fresh start.

However, amid the genuine sanctuaries of recovery, a darker side lurks.

Dubbed the “Florida Shuffle” and the South Florida Rehab Fraud, a web of deceitful practices has emerged, preying on vulnerable individuals in their quest for sobriety.

This post delves deep into these scams, shedding light on how to identify and avoid them.

 

The Lure of Florida for Rehabilitation

Florida’s appeal as a haven for rehabilitation is undeniable.

Its warm, temperate climate and picturesque surroundings—ranging from sun-drenched beaches to tranquil bays—offer an inviting atmosphere for those seeking healing and a fresh start.

The state’s natural allure has been a significant factor in why many choose to undergo rehab there, hoping that the serene environment would complement and bolster their recovery journey.

Further cementing its reputation as a rehabilitation hub, Florida boasts over 600 licensed rehab centers, according to data from the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Online platforms promote impressive 90% success rates and picturesque beach vistas, almost marketing them as luxury resorts rather than rehab facilities.

However, this high concentration, while seeming like an indicator of reliability and choice, can paradoxically make it challenging for individuals to discern genuine centers from deceptive ones.

With so many options, the waters become muddied, and the potential for scams grows, misleading those desperately searching for genuine help.

 

 

Delray Beach: Known as the USA’s ‘Rehab Capital’

Delray Beach, Florida, is known as the “Rehab Capital” of the USA due to its high concentration of drug rehabilitation centers, addiction treatment facilities, and a thriving recovery community.

People come from all over seeking effective addiction treatment and support, with Delray Beach hosting anywhere from 100 to 500 halfway houses and an estimated total of up to 3,000 throughout the state.

Additionally, there are numerous detox centers, month-long rehab programs, and individuals participating in intensive outpatient treatments while residing in regular housing.

The “Florida model” of substance abuse treatment, emphasizing a structured and supportive environment for recovering addicts, has gained popularity in the area.

However, relapses during the early recovery phase are unfortunately common and can result in overdoses.

From March to August of this year alone, Delray witnessed 60 overdose incidents.

In 2013, opiate overdoses claimed the lives of at least 590 individuals in Palm Beach County.

Despite its reputation, Delray Beach has faced criticism over issues such as unethical practices within the rehab industry and exploitation.

It is crucial to thoroughly research and conduct due diligence when selecting a reputable and trustworthy treatment facility in the area.

 

Understanding the ‘Florida Shuffle’

The term “Florida Shuffle” refers to a disturbing and deceitful practice prevalent in some rehabilitation circuits in the state.

It describes the cyclical movement of patients between detox centers, sober homes, and treatment facilities, often without substantial therapeutic benefit to the individual.1

Instead of focusing on genuine recovery, certain unscrupulous facilities use this shuffle to maximize insurance billings.

As a patient’s insurance coverage for one type of care is exhausted, they are moved to a different type of facility or service, regardless of its appropriateness for their treatment.

This revolving door not only prolongs an individual’s journey to sobriety but also becomes a cash cow for fraudulent operators, prioritizing financial gains over the health and well-being of those in their care.

An Example of Scam Stories in the News

Florida Physician Convicted Over Substance Abuse Treatment Scam

A Florida-based doctor, Michael J. Ligotti, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison following his involvement in a decade-long fraudulent billing scheme targeted at vulnerable individuals seeking addiction treatments.2

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. condemned Ligotti’s misuse of his position, emphasizing the scale of this case as the most significant addiction fraud treatment case ever handled by the Department of Justice.

Ligotti, based in Delray Beach, was linked with over 50 sober homes and treatment facilities in Palm Beach County, where he authorized and conducted unnecessary urine drug tests, costing thousands of dollars each.

By leveraging these fraudulent practices, Ligotti steered patients to his Whole Health LLC clinic for further redundant and overpriced tests and treatments.

Between 2011 and 2020, the scheme resulted in healthcare programs being fraudulently billed over $746 million, of which around $127 million was paid.

After pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit health care and wire fraud in October 2022, Ligotti was directed to give up his medical license.

The FBI Miami Field Office and multiple other agencies collaboratively investigated the case, with commendations directed to the investigators for their diligence.

The Department of Justice’s Sober Homes Initiative, established in September 2020, has been central to prosecuting such exploitative practices.

Since its foundation, the initiative has addressed over $1 billion in fraudulent billings related to addiction treatments.

 

The Truth About ‘Patient Brokers’

Individuals grappling with drug addiction, particularly to opioids, are increasingly becoming victims of a vast insurance fraud network, as revealed by a joint investigation from STAT and the Boston Globe.

These vulnerable individuals are often lured away from their homes and into distant, high-priced treatment facilities that provide inadequate care.

This care is covered by top-tier health insurance benefits obtained through fraudulent means such as using fictitious addresses.

Patient brokers, who act as middlemen between patients and rehab facilities, are often recovering addicts themselves and are motivated by financial gain rather than the well-being of the patients they are supposed to help.3

They receive commissions and kickbacks for directing patients toward specific facilities, regardless of whether or not they are the best fit for the patient’s needs.

This can lead to patients being sent to facilities that may not provide the appropriate level or quality of care.

Additionally, these brokers may funnel insured addicts into these centers to generate substantial insurance claims for each admitted patient.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield plans, known for their generous benefits and leniency towards out-of-network care, are frequently exploited.

This exploitation has become so rampant that there’s even a slang term for it: “Blue Crossing the country.”

This system not only undermines the authenticity of the rehab selection process but also traps addicts in a loop of subpar treatment and relapse.

Their recovery becomes secondary to the monetary motives of brokers, making an already challenging journey even more treacherous.

 

Major Indicators of South Florida Rehab Fraud

The rehabilitation industry in South Florida has a problem with fraudulent facilities that take advantage of patients.

While there are legitimate centers, knowing the warning signs is important.

One red flag is when fees are unusually high, and there are hidden charges.

Unfortunately, the quality of care often doesn’t match the cost.

Another issue is that there aren’t enough skilled professionals working at these facilities.

This means that there are fewer staff members available to attend to patients.

Many of these centers also lack personalization in their treatments and don’t use evidence-based practices.

They focus more on maximizing insurance payouts than providing genuine care.

Sometimes, patients may be subjected to unnecessary lab tests to increase their bill.

Additionally, the industry often uses aggressive marketing tactics.

Some individuals may be contacted by brokers who are only interested in commission-based referrals rather than the patient’s well-being.

 

Indicator Detailed Description
Unusually high costs and hidden fees. Many fraudulent rehab centers have prices that are significantly higher than industry standards. These centers might also have undisclosed fees that patients are unaware of until they are billed, leading to unexpected financial burdens.
Lack of qualified staff or low staff-to-patient ratio. Fraudulent rehab centers often cut costs by not hiring adequately trained or licensed professionals. A low staff-to-patient ratio can indicate that the facility is more interested in maximizing profits than providing quality care.
Little to no personalized or evidence-based treatments. Effective rehabilitation centers usually offer treatments tailored to individual needs, backed by scientific evidence. In contrast, fraudulent centers might use a one-size-fits-all approach or use non-proven methods, jeopardizing patient recovery.
Centers that prioritize insurance money over patient well-being. These centers’ primary motive is to milk as much money from insurance claims as possible, often at the expense of the patient’s health and recovery. This can involve unnecessary treatments or prolonging a patient’s stay without genuine medical reasons.
Frequent lab tests and overbilling. Fraudulent centers often order unnecessary lab tests with the sole purpose of inflating bills. This places an unwarranted financial strain on patients or their insurers and subjects patients to needless procedures.
Unsolicited marketing tactics or ‘brokers’ who get a commission for referrals. Brokers or middlemen receive commissions for funneling patients into certain facilities. These brokers might employ aggressive and unsolicited marketing tactics, prioritizing their commission over finding the best care for the individual.

 

Consequences of Falling for a Rehab Scam

Falling victim to a rehab scam can have dire consequences, with ramifications that extend beyond the immediate repercussions of deceit.

 

Emotional and Psychological Toll:

Recovering from addiction is an emotional journey; those seeking help at rehab centers are often at their most vulnerable.

It’s a crucial time when they need a lifeline to overcome their substance abuse struggles.

However, falling victim to a scam can deepen feelings of betrayal, hopelessness, and mistrust.

Being taken advantage of at such a pivotal moment can have a profound and long-lasting impact on an individual’s mental health.

Families also suffer as they trust these facilities to help their loved ones.

Witnessing a family member struggle with the aftermath of a scam can be heartbreaking, leading to feelings of guilt, anger, and sadness.

 

Monetary Costs and Financial Ruin:

Scammers in the rehabilitation industry often take advantage of people financially.

They may convince victims and their loved ones to pay large amounts of money for care that is not up to standard, tricking them into thinking they are investing in high-quality treatment.

These scams can result in hidden fees and false charges, causing significant debt and financial hardship.

This can make it difficult for the victim to afford legitimate rehabilitation services in the future, as their funds may be depleted or their credit damaged.

 

Risk of Relapse and Negative Health Outcomes:

The main aim of rehabilitation is to aid recovery and prevent relapse.

Unfortunately, some patients do not receive the required support or treatment in a deceitful establishment prioritizing profit over care.

This absence of authentic, evidence-based care significantly heightens the risk of relapse.

Additionally, unwarranted or unsuitable treatments can lead to negative health consequences, further endangering an individual’s journey to recovery.

The outcome can be fatal in certain devastating scenarios, such as ineffective treatments or inadequate supervision.

 

In essence, while rehab scams financially exploit victims, the true cost is far deeper, potentially derailing lives and stifling genuine attempts at recovery.

 

*Photos courtesy of Michelle Cronin

 

The Heartbreaking Story of Nicole Cronin

Nicole Cronin, a 20-year-old from New Jersey, tragically overdosed in what is known as the “recovery capital of America,” Delray Beach.5

Seeking treatment for her opiate addiction, Nicole’s parents sent her to Florida, anticipating she would receive effective care.

However, they were unaware of the fraudulent rehab practices plaguing the region.

Tragically, instead of helping, the halfway house Nicole was enrolled in found her high and, rather than seeking medical attention, placed her in a nearby motel, where she was later found deceased.

The facility, Halfway There, faced scrutiny from federal agents even before Nicole’s incident.

The tragedy underlines the vast number of rehab scams, where treatment isn’t based on scientific backing but rather driven by profit motives.

The Cronin family’s subsequent lawsuit accuses Halfway There of negligence leading to Nicole’s untimely death.

Their story is a grim reminder of the need for a more accountable and effective rehab system in regions like South Florida.

 

Steps to Identify and Avoid Rehab Scams

To safeguard against rehab scams, it’s imperative to research any potential facility thoroughly.

Begin by confirming its accreditation and perusing reviews to gauge the experiences of previous patients.

Unsolicited referrals or promises that sound too perfect may be red flags, so approach them with caution.

It’s crucial to inquire about the facility’s treatment methodologies and the qualifications of their staff.

Transparency in billing is vital; ensure you understand their billing practices and how they handle insurance claims.

Lastly, always trust your gut feelings.

If something feels off, it likely is.

Turn to reliable sources, like medical professionals or trusted acquaintances, for recommendations and insights.

 

Step Description
Research the facility Before committing to a rehab facility, ensure you check its accreditation. Review reviews and feedback from past patients to determine their experiences and satisfaction levels.
Be wary of unsolicited referrals and promises. Exercise caution when you receive unsolicited referrals. Be skeptical of promises that sound too good to be true as they often are misleading or false.
Ask about treatment methods and staff credentials. Understanding the treatment methodologies is crucial. Equally important is knowing the credentials of the staff to ensure the facility provides professional care.
Verify billing practices and insurance claims. Clear transparency in billing is essential. Understand how the facility bills for its services and how it handles insurance claims to prevent any unforeseen expenses or fraudulent charges.
Trust your instincts If something doesn’t feel right about a facility, trust your gut. Seek recommendations and insights from trusted acquaintances or medical professionals.

 

Signs of Legitimate Rehab Centers

Reputable rehab centers are easily distinguished from scams due to their adherence to high professional and ethical standards.

A trustworthy facility will have proper licensing, accreditation, and certification, demonstrating their dedication to providing quality care and treatment.

They will also have transparent pricing and detailed treatment plans to build trust and ensure patients are well-informed throughout rehabilitation.

It is equally important that the rehab center employs professional medical staff who are trained and equipped to provide comprehensive care to individuals on their journey to recovery.

To ensure the best treatment experience, it is strongly recommended that individuals thoroughly research and verify the credentials and background of rehab centers before committing.

 

Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones

To safeguard oneself and cherished ones from the pitfalls of rehab scams, it’s imperative to be proactive and informed.

Central to this is the necessity of conducting rigorous research on prospective rehab facilities, delving into their track records, reviews, and overall reputation.

Moreover, when selecting a rehab program, consulting with qualified medical professionals or addiction counselors can provide invaluable insights and recommendations.

Such experts often deeply understand the intricacies of addiction recovery and can guide individuals towards reputable centers.

Furthermore, numerous resources, including government websites and accrediting organizations, are at one’s disposal to verify the legitimacy of a facility.

By taking these steps, one can ensure a safer and more effective path to recovery for themselves and their loved ones.

 

Reporting and Taking Action

As a responsible member of society, it is important to take a stand against suspicious or fraudulent rehab centers to protect vulnerable individuals seeking help.

If you suspect or come across a rehab scam, it is crucial to report it promptly to prevent potential harm to others.

You can report such incidents to state licensing boards, which oversee medical facilities, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) if it involves business malpractices, or local or federal law enforcement agencies if criminal activity is suspected.

Additionally, raising awareness within your community and sharing information with friends and family can help amplify the impact.

By working together and being vigilant, we can significantly reduce the spread and impact of these deceitful practices and ensure that those in need receive genuine support.

 

 

When it comes to rehab centers, it’s important to have knowledge to navigate this complex realm.

Not all treatment facilities in Florida are illegitimate, but it’s recommended that you take precautions and conduct thorough research before committing to a specific rehab.

It’s crucial to know how to identify legitimate facilities, protect yourself and your loved ones with extensive research, and take collective action against fraudulent practices to ensure authentic support for those in need.

We encourage everyone to stay vigilant, question everything, and take decisive action by reporting suspicious activities.

By working together, we can create a safer environment for recovery and hold on to the hope that genuine help is always available for those who seek it.

 

Cornerstone Healing Center, located in the heart of Scottsdale, Arizona, is a beacon of hope for individuals struggling with addiction.

As an accredited facility with a sterling reputation, it is widely recognized and highly praised for its comprehensive and compassionate approach to recovery.

If you are searching for a supportive environment to overcome addiction, Cornerstone Healing Center is an exceptional choice, committed to transforming lives and promoting long-term recovery.

Please get in touch with us today for a free and confidential assessment!

 

SOURCES

[1] She wanted addiction treatment. She ended up in the relapse capital of America.

[2] Florida Doctor Sentenced for Substance Abuse Treatment Fraud Scheme

[3] The addict brokers: Middlemen profit as desperate patients are ‘treated like paychecks’

[4] Desperate for addiction treatment, patients are pawns in lucrative insurance fraud scheme

[5] Pee Scams, Kickbacks, And Overdoses Plague South Florida Rehabs

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Contributor: Julie Miller

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Author & Reviewers

julie miller recovery writer and author
RECOVERY WRITER
Julie is a recovery advocate, with over two years sober. She is a recovery speaker who believes people can change for the better. Her mission is to write factual, helpful information about addiction, treatment, and recovery. She believes that no one should be left in the dark about the process at any stage of their recovery.
lionel estrada lisac clinical director
CLINICAL DIRECTOR

Lionel is the Clinical Director of Cornerstone’s treatment facilities in Arizona. He has had over 4 years at Cornerstone. He is personally in recovery and passionate about helping others overcome substance abuse and mental health challenges, he is trained as an EMDR, adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues of conditions.

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