Some South Florida sober homes are not certified, records show

Sober homes need certification for treatment centers to legally refer patients

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – When no one in her home state would take her insurance, a mother decided to send her daughter to South Florida to go to a heroin rehab center.

The mother, whom Local 10 News chose not to identify, said her daughter stays at the Keep It Simple House, a rehab home, connected to Recovery in the Light, a drug treatment center in Hollywood.

The mother said her daughter went to the drug treatment center, but doesn't have a job and doesn't pay rent at Keep it Simple House.

"She gets free food. She gets clothes. She has a phone," in exchange, the mother said, for showing up and taking drug tests. The mother said she also gets billed for the urine tests.

Some treatments and drug tests come out to more than $3,000, the mother said, but she hasn't received or paid a single bill.

A statement from the mother's insurance company shows that Recovery in the Light billed thousands for testing and treatment. 

"So if they're making that kind of money, then the incentive is for her to stay at that sober living home and make her as comfortable as she can possibly be," the mother said.

In Palm Beach County, the problems within the drug treatment industry have been so bad that state attorney Dave Aronberg formed a task force to crack down on illegal activity there.

"The illicit money feeds unnecessary tests and feeds relapse because there's no incentive to get someone healthy," Aronberg said.

Chief assistant state attorney Al Johnson said there is a name for giving a patient a benefit for attending a program. It's called patient brokering, and although it's a felony, sober homes fall into a gray area.

"You can open a sober home right now just by buying a house or renting a house," Aronberg said. "That's it."

But in order for a licensed treatment center to legally refer patients, that home needs to be certified with the Florida Association of Recovery Residences.

Many sober homes are not certified.

Steve Buron, listed as the manager of Keep it Simple, said the home is certified.

"We're a level 3 FARR accreditation," Buron said.

When Local 10 News pointed out to Buron that the home's website wasn't listed on the FARR website, he said, "I don't know how it would be removed, because as of last week, I was on FARR."

FARR confirmed the home is not certified and hasn't been for months.

The home was certified at one point, but lost its certification when the required administrator resigned and the home never replaced them.

Then there's a sober home in northeast Miami-Dade County, which was rented by a treatment center called  Coconut Grove Recovery to house its clients. The home is not FARR certified. 

Last year, officers with the county issued a warning to the property for unauthorized use of the home.

Although no one from the center would speak to Local 10, an attorney who represents Coconut Grove Recovery sent a statement.

"Bills issued to financially responsible parties by Coconut Grove Recovery comply with all applicable laws," the statement said. "We recently learned that one of the residential facilities to which we refer patients was in the process of obtaining FARR accreditation (as opposed to already being accredited), which, we understand, will occur shortly."

However, FARR has told Local 10 that it not have any record of their application.

A representative for Recovery in the Light also sent a statement. 

"Our licensed facility fully complies with the law in regards to patient billing," the statement said. "Our policy is to refer patients to FARR accredited sober homes."

Documents appear to show a link between the businesses-representatives from Coconut Grove Recovery, Recovery in the Light and Keep it Simple, discussing how to make authorities believe they're charging clients rent.

"If we're just playing whack-a-mole, that's not solving the problem," Aronberg said. "You need to have a comprehensive state law that fixes this law (and) doesn't scurry it to other communities."

The mother of the woman who is staying at Keep It Simple House said sending her daughter to Florida for treatment is a mistake she can't undo. 

"I thought I was helping her and, come to find out, I really wasn't helping her," she said.

None of these businesses mentioned in this article has been charged with any crime, and FARR representatives said they cannot comment on any internal investigations. 

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