Pennsylvania has hundreds of open beds for drug rehabilitation patients, but regulations on staffing and paperwork are leaving addicts without treatment. The state has seen more than 5,100 drug overdose deaths in 2021, and while rehab centers have the capacity to admit more patients, regulations prevent them from doing so. Different client/staff and client/counselor ratios depending on the type of treatment can require an on-call physician at all times, one primary care staff for every five or seven clients, or one counselor for every five to 35 clients. Even if rehab centers have the professional judgment to treat a patient, they cannot legally admit them. The Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs can grant a waiver, but this requires a written petition to justify it.
Jason Snyder, director of substance use disorder treatment services for the Rehabilitation and Community Providers Association, argues that officials could offer a blanket exception to facilities with the capacity to take in more patients. For example, one of the largest providers in Pennsylvania, Gaudenzia, has hundreds of unused beds that could immediately care for 100 additional patients on a monthly basis if the ratio was relaxed. However, the regulations are meant to preserve high-quality care, but the unintended result is that they require providers to deny addicts treatment.
Snyder emphasizes the importance of removing barriers to accessing treatment, as delays can lead to sending people back to the street. He suggests making it easier to get an exception would cut down on paperwork and allow providers to focus on more important tasks. Neighboring states like Maryland have no staffing ratio rules, and New Jersey’s ratios are almost twice as high as Pennsylvania’s. Changing the regulations takes time, but Snyder believes that officials should prioritize removing barriers to help those struggling with addiction.