How to Overcome Common Barriers to Starting a Drug & Alcohol Rehab Center, Stillwater Behavioral Health Founder Nicholas Mathews Explains

Overcoming this addiction required me to practice honesty and integrity every single day to clean up the wreckage I had caused in my life.

By Nicholas Mathews


When I was 16 years old, I became a heroin addict. Overcoming this addiction required me to practice honesty and integrity every single day to clean up the wreckage I had caused in my life. I continue trying to make amends every single day, which takes courage and confidence. 


I soon dedicated my life to helping others gain sobriety, becoming a consultant for various treatment facilities. Confronted with deficiencies in clinical care, I became determined to boost the effectiveness of treatment programs. That’s why I founded Stillwater Behavioral Health, a dual diagnosis treatment facility that personalizes care to help those struggling to recover from substance addiction and mental health disorders.


Founding an effective treatment center is a great way to help people and lead a meaningful life, but it requires overcoming substantial obstacles. Here’s how some of the most common barriers can be surmounted.

Financial Capital

The first barrier for any business is financial, but treatment centers are particularly costly to operate. Licensing fees, rent, research and development costs, and salaries for highly qualified professional staff – all this takes a lot of money. Keep in mind, as well, that getting reimbursed from patients’ insurance can take awhile. Securing adequate capital from investors or banks is a must.

Complying with Government Regulations

Government regulations for businesses in the healthcare industry can seem tedious at first, but they are designed to keep patients alive and safe. What are we doing if we’re not doing that?


I advise treating the regulations as educational opportunities to build a thriving center. To understand the rules, use online resources such as the state’s relevant websites. Take the time to learn the regulations and then design policies and procedures to comply with them. Train staff on these right out of the gate. Ensure that everyone is prepared to follow these regulations fully and have the necessary resources to do so. Consider hiring a consultant if needed. Keep in mind that centers that do not follow the codes can be held liable if someone tragically loses their life.

Craft a Winning Business Model

New centers can treat a wide variety of problems, including mental health, traditional substance abuse, and specific niches. It’s vital to figure out the people you want to help first; you can’t help everybody. The more you try to treat, the less effective your treatment is, so I encourage people to find their niche. Figure out what you want to specialize in, and then target that niche.


Location is another important factor to consider. There are a lot of facilities in our area, so we have a lot of competition. It’s essential to do research and find an area where there’s still a lot of demand for services so that even a brand-new facility could get a toehold in the market.

Hiring the Right Staff

Many facilities don’t understand who’s qualified to provide treatment and what characteristics make them a quality treatment provider. Hiring the right staff not only influences growth, but it can make or break the center’s success and longevity. 


You might have the best chef and program director at your center, but if you have a sub-par clinical director, the patients will probably not return at the end of the day. And they certainly won’t recommend your center to other people. Having lower-quality staff can do a lot of damage.


A successful treatment center employs a strong treatment team of medical doctors and primary therapists who work together on behalf of the patients’ best interest and recovery. Hiring the best staff is vital, but it can be challenging to find and attract top talent. The individuals you want to hire are at least masters-level clinicians and medical doctors – people who could just start a private practice and work for themselves. 


My top recruitment strategy is cultivating community amongst our staff members. New prospects want to join our winning team. Creating a culture and an environment where people can thrive is important to engage and retain talent. This can require a lot of humility and effort, but providing a healthy workspace contributes to the overall mission.

Effective Staff Management

In the healthcare industry, especially when the private sector is involved, most of the owners and operators of these facilities — myself included — are less qualified than the staff. I hire doctors, clinicians, psychiatrists, and other staff with specific niche qualifications that differ from my expertise.


Nobody likes micromanagers, and nothing is worse for growth than micromanaging. To manage these people effectively, trust their opinion, give them autonomy, provide the tools they need, and get out of the way.


Accomplishing this requires humility. Rather than ruling with an iron fist, create an environment of support built on communication. It boils down to the adage “you’re only as good as your team.” It’s essential for leaders to recognize their limitations and strengths and take a cold, hard look at themselves and their capabilities.


In addition, the more comfortable leaders become delegating tasks, the more success they will have. Every time a business adds a new location or service, management spreads itself exponentially thinner. I will admit that delegating is easier said than done.

Giving Back and Moving Forward

Altruism and a genuine yearning to help others are crucial in maintaining quality care at a treatment center. While a for-profit healthcare system can be profitable, it can also undermine the organization over time. I’ve seen the following happen multiple times – a new center comes in and makes a ton of money, but the leadership’s motivation to help people fades, the quality of care declines, people stop coming, and the business folds after a couple of years. 


Prospective providers should figure out why they want to do this work in the first place and stay connected to the desire to help people. 


My journey started when I realized I was capable of building something incredible to help others. I wanted to work in the field I knew best – the health, wellness, and recovery field. With the lessons I have learned through my experience, I find fulfillment in designing and operating treatment programs that change lives.

Nicholas Mathews, CEO and Co-Founder of Stillwater Behavioral Health, a Dual Diagnosis drug and alcohol treatment program with Montecito and Porter Ranch locations.

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