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BBH Alters Board of Directors

November 17, 2010

The family that operates Baltimore Behavioral Health, Inc., a large city drug treatment program, has removed itself from voting power on the nonprofit’s board of directors and appointed three new caretaker directors in order to comply with state law.

The Sun’s Scott Calvert got the details in a Monday story. He credited pressure from state regulators, in particular a letter from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s inspector general asking how BBH could comply with the law that requires paid executives and the board members who set their salaries to be independent of one another.

John E. Sibrea, a lawyer who has represented BBH family members in the past, is now the nonprofit’s board president and will remain so until June 2011, Calvert reported. Sibrea did not immediately return City Paper’s phone message.

The board change was contemplated for months, prompted by an inquiry from the Office of Health Care Quality, according to Terry Brown, BBH’s vice president of resource development, and still a BBH board member. But The Sun’s inquiry appears to have played a role, according to the minutes of BBH’s Jan. 26, 2010 board meeting, which City Paper obtained from the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene:

Scott Calvert, an investigative reporter with the Baltimore Sun, has been interviewing previous employees, BBH competitors, current staff, former BBH physicians, and various other contacts. He met with Terry [Brown] and claimed to be writing a balanced article but feedback from interviewees suggests a negative, sensational slant. Nick [Scotto] consulted with Phil Keller who suggested attempting to place positive items. Morris [Hill, BBH Board President] remarked that JCAHO [Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations] requires that a certain percentage of board members be constituted of consumers. Terry [Brown] suggested self-publishing an item from the Board on BBH’s internet site. Victoria [Hathaway] will compose a letter showcasing BBH’s mission and past decade of efforts, testimonials, etc.

The Sun’s two-part series on BBH, published Nov. 7 and 8, questioned the company’s high percentage of mental illness diagnoses in its clients and shined a light on its housing practices. City Paper plowed some of that same ground a month earlier, asking how a few somewhat mysterious housing providers were paid millions of dollars to supply shabby housing to people in recovery from drug addiction.

The board minutes illustrate the degree to which drug treatment, which politicians and other policymakers often depict (and regard) as a charity service, is actually a business. The BBH board minutes are dotted with references to advertising campaigns, political power, and competitors.

“Del. Ruth Kirk is also in BBH’s corner,” Brown stated in his “community report” during the January 2009 board meeting, according to the minutes. This is literally true: Kirk’s district office is in BBH’s headquarters building. In his “Advertising Report” in the same meeting, Brown said, “An upcoming campaign will start February 2009 designed to capture the PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] market (private insurers, HMOs, PPOs, etc).”

During the board’s April 2009 meeting, Brown gave a report of “Local Competition/Providers,” stating, “Johns Hopkins Hospital operates two programs which mimic BBH, provide community housing, etc. U of MD operates some 25 houses in the vicinity of BBH. Powell [Recovery, Inc.] operates 40 houses and is currently offered for sale at $25 million.” Regarding advertising that quarter, Brown reported, “Campaigns with Channel 13 and 101.9 are on-going with follow-up in Admissions to assess the outcomes.”

And in the October 2009 meeting, the BBH directors heard that “University of MD does not want a methadone clinic to be located too close to the new biopark,” suggesting that powerful institutions may have more influence on these matters than the residents of rowhouse communities. The minutes also note that “the federal government has subpoenaed records from BSAS for the now-defunct ‘I Can’t, We Can’ grant-funded treatment program,” a claim that is now common on the street but as yet unconfirmed by federal authorities.

State health officials say their investigation of BBH’s practices is ongoing.

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