Aspen Marketing -- Referral from One Aspen Program to Another
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When a person is referred to an Aspen school or program, upon completion of that stay Aspen generally refers back to the referral source, a common practice in their business.  When a person arrives at an Aspen program as a result of parents only being involved in having selected the facility and there is no professional referral source involved, we are concerned that discharge planning might be strongly influenced by what is best for the corporate bottom line of Aspen/CRC Health Group /Bain Capital rather than by what is good for the young person.  This is especially true when the person is participating in a school or program on the Aspen menu, such as a wilderness program that typically refers its participants on to longer term treatment or special schooling. 

We also get reports from clients who do come to us on their own after Aspen has advised them in ways that simply did not make sense.  These pieces of advice that make no sense at the bottom line involve Aspen people referring to Aspen programs when those programs are not truly appropriate and, in some cases, transparently inappropriate.  Aspen executives have denied that they do this intentionally and claim that they refer to educational consultants whenever this situation arises.   They also make sure that many of their staff people in direct contact with parents who will be selecting a program have knowledge of other Aspen facilities. It sometimes appears that they do this hoping that the Aspen employee will like the other Aspen facilities and “break with policy” and suggest another Aspen facility that Aspen has paid them to learn about.

When Mt.  Bachelor Academy closed, we had an opportunity to have a close look at two situations in which students were referred to Academy at Swift River.  In one case the student became our client. In the other, the parent discussed a client relationship with us, but resolved the need ultimately without our help.   In both cases we had extensive information about the student.  In both cases, Aspen representatives recommended transfer to Academy at Swift River as their only recommendation. 

In the case of the client who became our client, the young man had learning issues which Academy at Swift River was not equipped to serve.   We noticed that first, when reviewing records.  Our opinion was validated when Academy at Swift River notified the boy’s parents that he was not eligible to enroll there, due to the same learning issues we observed. 

We can’t describe the other student in any detail because if we did, the circumstances would identify him.  But it was another case where Aspen representatives identified Academy at Swift River as the only reasonable choice until the management at Academy at Swift River took a close look and said “no.” 

Isn’t Academy at Swift River management part of Aspen?  Doesn’t that clear up the matter? Aren’t we making an inappropriate distinction?  Not quite.  Dr. Frank Bartolomeo, then Executive Director of Academy at Swift River operated with the highest ethical standards and if anything was over-cautious in denying admission to people he thought the school would not serve well.  In the case of these two students, it was very clear cut.  But the people making recommendations back at Mt. Bachelor simply did not do their basic homework before making the recommendations, as is far too typical.  Their action exemplified the corporate inclination to keep the student in the Aspen system whether that is appropriate or not -- if there is not a professional referral source looking over their shoulder.

We do not know whether or not there is a connection, but Dr. Bartolomeo resigned at Academy at Swift River a few months after this.  We doubt that he was forced out. It would not surprise us if he was just tired of dealing with the corporate culture. Remember, he has the highest standards of competence and integrity.

We simply are unaware of any time in recent years that Aspen has had an opportunity to give guidance to a family without access to an outside professional referral agent or educational consultant that they did not refer to an Aspen program whether or not the Aspen Program was appropriate. We do know of times that such people have been referred to an educational consultant – usually one who has a strong referral pattern to Aspen programs. See our article on Aspen’s use of the power of referrals.

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Navigating the Aspen Marketing article

1.  Exploiting publicity about abuses in the field, attempting to project the image that Aspen Education is uniquely immune to these problems.  

Too often we hear of clinicians advising parents that sending their child to a therapeutic program away from home is only a good idea if it is an Aspen program.  Clinicians and other referring professionals who give that advice are likely falling victim to  .   .   .   (more)

2.  Web Advertising.  A further example of where we would like to see improvement at Aspen/ CRC Health Group involves their web advertising. We saw temporary improvement about the time we previously called public attention to this, but it appears the problem is back, or maybe it never left and we just missed it.    (more) 

          2a. Documentation

3. Quid pro quo marketing.  Quid pro quo marketing is providing some incentive, often an item of value in exchange for business.  It is not like the “cents off” coupon from your neighborhood grocery store; it is more like paying someone who appears to be a neutral source to tell you that is the best grocery store in town.  We are not accusing Aspen or CRC Health Group of actual payoffs or referral fees to educational consultants.  We will let you decide whether or not what we describe crosses any troubling lines.  (more)

              3a. Exorbitant perks

              3b. Special Events

           3c. External Referral

           3d. Information for Referral

4. Misuse of outcome studies

Aspen, to its great credit, commissioned an extensive outcome study blanketing its schools, excluding its wilderness programs. The problem arises when the study is used to convince others of the effectiveness of one school or treatment center, ignoring the fact that the results of many schools have been lumped together.   (more)

5.  Referral from one Aspen program to another

When a person is referred to an Aspen school or program, upon completion of that stay Aspen generally refers back to the referral source, a common practice in their business.  When a person arrives at an Aspen program  .  .  .  (more)

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Additional Links:

Return to main article on Aspen Education (Top of Page)

Blog entry on closure of Mt. Bachelor Academy

Official web site of Aspen Education

Official web site of CRC Health Group

Official web site of Bain Capital

Return to Major Providers Index

Return to Individual Schools and Programs Index

Woodbury Reports links to Aspen Education

Feedback is invited. We will publish selected feedback.  Email

Disclaimer: No  program review, no matter how positive, is a blanket endorsement. No criticism is a blanket condemnation.  When we express our level of confidence in a school or program, that is our subjective opinion with which others might reasonably disagree.  When we assert something as fact, we have done our best to be accurate, but we cannot guarantee that all of our information is accurate and up to date. When we address compliance with our guidelines, you need to remember that these are only OUR guidelines -- not guidelines from an official source.  We have also set the bar very high, and do not expect any school or program to be in total compliance.  It is not appropriate to draw a conclusion of impropriety (or even failure to live up to conventional wisdom) from our lack of confidence in a school or program or from less than perfect conformity to our guidelines.  Some will say we expect too much. Readers are responsible for verifying accuracy of information supplied here prior to acting upon it. We are not responsible for inaccuracies.

Last revised April 12, 2010

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