The road to recovery does not end after a patient has walked out of your doors. You’ve spent countless hours holding their hand through the treatment program and taught them vital life skills. You’ve watched them fight a battle they thought they would lose. As a treatment center, your goals involve helping your patients as much as you can and expanding your reach. But how many times have you lost contact with an alumnus?
An alumni program is an integral layer of a treatment center’s aftercare program. This program cushions the transition from a treatment center to daily life.
Why do I need an alumni program?
There are two primary benefits to any alumni program — clinical and financial.
We all know that the longer someone is connected to care, the higher their chances of successful, long-term recovery. The bottom line is that a strong alumni program improves recovery outcomes.
From a financial perspective, alumni are one of the lowest-cost sources of admissions. Based on internal surveys of our clients, we know most treatment programs expect that 25%-30% of their admits will come through alumni referrals. Some treatment programs see as much as 50% of their census comes from alumni through both re-admits and referrals.
We know addiction is something many people struggle with for their entire lives, so providers are not surprised when a patient needs to re-admit. What many providers are often surprised by is that many of their own alumni will actually go to a different treatment program instead of back to theirs!
It’s providers who don’t have alumni programs that alumni are least likely to return to. This is because they may feel embarrassed or ashamed at what they see as a failure. But for programs with a strong alumni program, alumni feel a strong connection to the provider and feel much more comfortable coming back. In fact, a good alumni coordinator may actually recognize that a patient is struggling and get that patient back into care sooner rather than later, saving the alumnus from going on a long bender or other harmful behavior.
Providers with strong alumni programs don’t just see more re-admissions, they also see more referrals as the provider stays top of mind for the alumni. A strong alumni program helps you help your former patients, helps you help more people, and puts you on more solid financial footing. They’re a no-brainer for any treatment provider.
How Do I Create an Alumni Program?
The cornerstone of an alumni program is a dedicated alumni coordinator. An alumni coordinator is responsible for staying in touch with alumni and their families. The alumni coordinator fosters these relationships through calls, emails, newsletters, in-person events, and online group management.
Can Virtual Enhancements Replace In-Person Experiences?
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported 86% of facilities across the country offered aftercare. However, what is defined as aftercare varies drastically across facilities. One facility may consider aftercare to be no more than a monthly newsletter, while others have fully integrated peer recovery support coaches and regular programming.
These enhancements cannot replace the in-person experience, but virtual support applications fill the gap when there is a lack of physical accessibility.
So, what’s stopping you? A program dedicated to alumni and families strengthens the trust you’ve built within your community.
Virtual solutions enhance on-site programs by:
- Eliminating feelings of isolation
- Providing accessibility to community
- Enhancing relapse prevention strategy
In today’s era, this can be carried out via technology like mobile apps. Technology allows you to connect with your community by celebrating milestones and important achievements, creating a meaningful personal connection.
How to Manage My Alumni Engagement Program?
Your alumni program helps cement the overall experience one could expect. When you’re creating the perfect alumni program for your facility, keep in mind a few current trends we’re seeing in the industry.
- Email systems or monthly newsletters
By sending out email blasts or a monthly newsletter, you can shine a light on recent achievements. Email is the top form of communication with an average 21.7% opening rate. It’s imperative that treatment centers have an email list on hand to provide their alumni with useful information. Send your alumni network quality content and drive traffic to your website.
Newsletters are an excellent way to update your community about changes to the facility or program planning. If your facility has recently begun a new service that differentiates you from your competition, advertise that in your newsletter. Furthermore, newsletters are the perfect way to feature alumni who have made strides in their recovery and can provide advice. People care about people. By writing a feature about an alumnus, you’ve acknowledged their growth and provided a sense of confidence and value in their life.
- Social Media Groups like Facebook, Whatsapp, Discord, or other Engagement Apps
Post-treatment relapse rates are higher within the first three months after discharge. Alumni coordinators should contact (with permission) patients numerous times during this period. We often recommend weekly for the first month after treatment, then bi-weekly for the next two months, and then move to monthly. Remember to get the patient’s preferred mode of communication; some prefer phone, some text, some email, etc.Social media groups are the perfect way to carry out these proactive steps. Creating a group on a social media platform is a great component for an alumni network. It’s crucial to foster a connection during the early stages of recovery. That connection will encourage alumni to engage with their peers and build a community they can rely on.
- Bi-weekly coffee chats
Social platforms can be daunting to navigate, but who doesn’t love coffee? Local coffee chats are welcoming and allow alumni to relax and chat about anything they would like. Everyone has 15 minutes to spare during the day. Just because it’s old-fashioned doesn’t mean it won’t work.
- Volunteers Program
Volunteering is known to combat stress, anxiety, and depression. The act of helping someone else can improve your physical health and provide a sense of purpose. Alumni can often feel as though they have lost their purpose, but volunteering can alter this notion and build a new community.
- Sports Activities and Social Events
Physical activity has been shown to help you sleep better at night while also reducing depression. Additionally, sports activities allow your mind to remain sharp because you’re actively thinking. The CDC states that people who are physically active for about 150 minutes a week have a 33% lower risk of all-cause mortality than those who are physically inactive. Physical activity like sports increases your chances of living longer.A community is incredibly important for recovery in general, and many in recovery can find it difficult to find new friends who don’t drink or misuse substances. Regular social events held by your program give your alumni an opportunity to connect with others in recovery.
- Annual Celebrations (Birthdays, Weddings, Job or Other Significant Events)
Celebrating milestones instills a meaningful significance in your alumni’s lives while creating memories. Alumni have experienced some hardship through recovery, so the positive memories to come will help them compensate for the bad. Psychology Today says, “When we stop to savor the good stuff, we buffer ourselves against the bad and build resilience.”
- Career Assistance Programs
While career assistance and mentorship overlap, career assistance is geared toward alumni finding a job. A sense of purpose can be found through gainful employment. Finding a job is not easy with a spotty work history. Getting back on track starts with a little coaching, resume-building, and consistency.
- Mentorship/Peer Recovery Support
Having a mentor post-discharge helps mitigate any bad thoughts an alumnus may have. While a mentor doesn’t have the answer to everything, they can help process emotions and thought processes. Alumni benefit from someone who has been in their shoes before.
- Events Calendar
This is an online calendar your alumni can reference at any time to know what’s going on at your facility. These should include both alumni events and any support groups you may host onsite.
- Data Collection
With social media guidelines constantly changing to protect a person’s information, it can be difficult to aggregate data.
- Using an open line of communication, conduct surveys — These surveys can be used to collect information on what future events alumni would like to see as well as more important and clinically relevant data like their mood, connection to employment, or success in recovery.
- Gauge a patient’s sobriety — The first three months post-discharge are challenging during recovery. Initial emotions like moodiness, anger, and anxious behavior can start a mental relapse. Sending surveys asking alumni to describe their mood could help identify at-risk clientele.
- Determine success rate — The data aggregated over months or years will tell you how successful your program is.
- Identify areas in need of improvement — Maybe alumni regularly complain about a certain counselor, or they state the need for more help rebuilding relationships with family. This feedback can be used to improve your program and patient outcomes.
- Post your data — Aggregated data can be posted on your website, like the number of alumni connected to employment or sober at 1 year. When someone is doing their research about the services you offer, the figures will speak as loudly as your words.
Current Trends for 2021:
- Admissions — 15% of census completed by alumni were a result of lead engagement. Alumni who’ve had a positive experience can vouch for your program and refer potential clients.
- Patient Engagement — Stay engaged with patients well after they have left your program through newsletters, coffee chats, etc. The more you enhance patient engagement, the more you’ve enhanced the overall clinical experience. This will lead to positive outcomes and stronger referrals. More importantly, if an alumnus needs to seek further treatment, you’ve now streamlined that process for them.
- Technology — Utilizing technology in the aftercare stage is impactful. The road to recovery looks different for every person and every treatment program. Technology allows you to collect outcomes data that is important when transitioning to value-based care and alternative payment methods. In fact, many Millennials and younger are expecting technology to be integrated into their care, especially their aftercare. Treatment providers need to be on top of this trend to stay relevant.
Organizations have incorporated cross-platform customization into the functionality of the app to help accommodate clients.
Implementing these tips in your program will not only improve the clinical experience for clients and families, but it will also increase your trust and reach. The clients’ wellness journey will continue by keeping them connected with those who attended the treatment programs. This provides your clients with countless access points to sober activities and eliminates isolation as a barrier to long-term recovery.
CaredFor cushions a recent alumnus’s transition to everyday life while providing a network with invaluable resources. Enhance the clinical experience by connecting, engaging, and influencing your community. To learn about how you can leverage technology and impact your alumni network, schedule a call today!
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