Vaughn Bell, MDiv, Senior Vice President, Business Development
Experience/ Leadership Philosophy
What is your leadership philosophy and how does that tie into treatment?
My original schooling was as a minister. So the concept of servant leadership is woven through everything about my leadership approach. Leaders should empower their teams and take personal ownership for their team’s success by providing them the tools, training and support to do their jobs. And then we should step back and let people bring their A game to the table. I have worked in the treatment industry for more than 30 years and I find that my training as a therapist has hopefully made me a better leader because it has taught me to ask questions and listen first, and solve issues through collaboration. The most effective treatment engages a patient’s whole system – their families, their spiritual self, their larger support systems – people don’t get better in a vacuum. As leaders, we don’t lead or work in a vacuum either. A systems approach to the workplace that engages the whole person and the whole team makes for a healthier culture and a more successful team. The same goes for getting a patient and their family well in a treatment setting. And as we teach our patients to have fun in their recovery as they move into healing, I encourage my team to have fun. If we can’t laugh and enjoy each other at work, then I believe I am in the wrong job.
What is your own personal healing philosophy?
I am married to a very talented therapist whom I met while working in the treatment industry. He has said something over and over to me that is such a great guide for healing: “People need five things to grow: safety, protection, lots and lots of information, warm encouragement and respectful treatment.” I can’t think of a better model for healing. As I said earlier, I attended Seminary after college and received my Master’s degree in pastoral counseling. Healing is a process that must touch us physically, emotionally and spiritually. We are not one-sided beings and the core of healing truly is love and acceptance. One of the things I feel is a core part of my approach to my work is that I truly like people. I just like being around people, getting to know them and I am definitely a glass half full person. I think in general people at their core are good and want to be good. So in order to heal we have to both find that good in people and help them find it in themselves. People ask me all the time why I went to school for all those years to be a therapist but have spent more of my time being a healthcare executive focused on sales and marketing. I believe what I do is still my mission and I do therapy every day – I just do it with a different audience. A good leader is sensitive to their teams’ personal health, and I love being in an industry where I get to contribute to people’s healing every day by supporting the processes that make treatment happen.
Based on your experience, what will you focus on during the next year at Pinnacle Treatment Centers?
Pinnacle is a growing company. Sometimes at a pace that may be challenging to keep up with. It is an exciting company and an excited company! So, much of my first year will be focused on enhancing communication internally and externally, building and growing a team that is skilled and able to build a network with our partners to make sure our clients can access recovery through multiple treatment modalities and levels of care, and developing the Pinnacle brand. The Pinnacle story is critical to get the word out to a world that is dying from a lack of access to treatment. We are growing fast because there is an urgency to what we do. People are dying every day from drug and alcohol addiction. We would love to work ourselves out of a job but unfortunately the need feels like it grows every day rather than subsides. Stigma is still alive and well, and my team’s job and my job is to help clarify our message and get it out even more effectively—that help is available and recovery is attainable. Much of my focus will be on accelerating education about the different modalities of treatment that are available – from the better known abstinence models to the increasingly needed medication-assisted treatment (MAT) outpatient approaches. We must build effective networks with a range of clinical and community partners to tighten the safety net under the addict that still suffers. Building systems to get our story out and share our services more effectively in the six states we presently serve will take an expanded team, more creative ways to reach our audience and a cohesive internal team approach with our own treatment providers to support the wide range of communities we serve. Pinnacle believes individuals should be able to access treatment in their home community with ease. Spreading that message and supporting a growing team to get the word out through as many channels as possible is our goal.
Tell us how you approach change.
I approach change with a smile on my face and open ears. Change happens because it is needed. It is not here to make us miserable. That being said, it does provide challenges. It is certainly not always easy. I truly believe your attitude about change is half the battle to surviving it and thus thriving in it. Change means we have to pay attention to the details but also not get lost in the weeds. As a leader, giving people a sense of safety during times of change is critical and providing structure to explore change in a way that helps each individual find their optimal way to adapt to it is key. People need to be heard while dealing with change and given opportunities to jump in where they can make the most impact. I have already been energized in my first month with Pinnacle by the leadership’s approach to change. Mistakes are ok. Inertia is not. Our CEO, Joe Pritchard and our COO, Brian Thorn share a vision—perfection is not expected, but a safe environment in which to roll up your sleeves and practice new skills is essential. The mantra here is patients and employees come first and when those are tended to, the business will flourish. So I am given the freedom to step into change with knowledge that I can guide my team to be creative and try new things as new opportunities present. Sometimes that is scary and sometimes the anxiety can be palatable… but when we create an environment where change is not seen as the bad guy, professionals can grow. That is what I hope my team feels from me. I have always said I have never felt I have made a mistake I can’t correct. If I make one decision and it turns out to be the wrong one, if I acted out of respect and integrity and found that it did not produce what I hoped, there is always the ability to make a different decision. I joke that I “always fall up”. That approach to change is born out of my spiritual belief that God has my best interest at heart and as long as I am true to my values, change can always be weathered and take us to the next great place.
What does success look like in your position at Pinnacle Treatment Centers?
Success looks like a happy and productive team around me and under my leadership that builds avenues for people to heal. It looks like people who are passionate about their jobs and have the freedom to do those jobs without anxiety because I am able to clear obstacles out of their way. My role at Pinnacle is to head up the communication of the Pinnacle brand to the communities we serve and to make sure that we are providing successful avenues for our services to touch lives. We don’t sell widgets. Not that widgets are bad…we all love a good widget, but the story that my team is responsible for telling is one that truly saves lives. We don’t take that responsibility lightly. I don’t have the luxury of being content with getting the word out about our services pretty well. I have to lead a team to get the word out about treatment at the highest level of success. Because doing it half way means we miss people who need our help. Success looks like building community partnerships in the communities we serve where law enforcement, social services, legislators, educators, and healthcare professionals see us as key partners in their work. Success looks like new locations opening regularly in underserved communities so people can start living a life without addiction. And success looks like my team never losing sight of the importance of our work and never losing sight of our mission. The more people who come through our doors to receive treatment, the better I sleep. It really is motivational to know that your professional success means some husband gets his wife back and some mother gets her son back.
How would you describe treatment in one word?
Grace. We all need more Grace.
In your opinion, what’s the biggest advancement in treatment right now?
We continue to make strides every day in our quest for knowledge about what causes addiction and what successfully conquers it. There are so many key learnings that have changed the face of treatment in my 30+ years in the industry. Evidence-based practices that we can now validate with outcome studies have shown us that we must treat the whole person. A single treatment modality is no longer seen to be the magic bullet. Our tremendous leaps in knowledge about neuro-transmitters and the brain and how certain drugs impact the body has given us the ability to deliver drugs that can truly arrest the cravings so that a person can breathe enough to build a support system of recovery, to then move towards abstinence and sobriety. No one addict is alike. Treatment programs must bring to bear a personalized approach to address the specific addiction cycle each patient presents with. The full continuum approach to treatment has given us the ability to provide patients a longer ramp up to develop that personal plan to get sober. Drugs are much different than they were 30 years ago. Even 10 years ago. The risks are much greater, the addictive impact is more immediate and the complication of patients using such a wide range of substances at one time has made the stakes much higher. I think the biggest advancement has been greater integration between medical interventions, like MAT and other tried and true therapeutic interventions that have been developed and utilized in psychiatric and addiction treatment circles for several decades. We are finally really stepping into treating the patient holistically.
What aspect do you believe is the most important in a person’s recovery?
Restoration of healthy relationship. The deepest wound of recovery is not physical, it is the emotional separation it causes from those we love. Including ourselves. When a person can find loving community again after recovery and reconnect in healthy, mature and joyous ways, then they can find peace and serenity. Recovery is spiritual. Connection with others is life blood. When that begins to heal and those relational tissues reconnect, the recovery is happening. Then recovery can be passed on. I am responsible for my brother, the restoration of healthy relationship enables the recovering addiction to both heal himself and help heal others.
Why is the treatment industry important to you?
Because there are people in my life who I love, who are still here as a result of it. And on the flip side there are others who are no longer here because they were unable to access it. Recovery has changed the lives of many people I know who are treasured friends and I can now watch them flourish. It is important to me because I have watched it work.
My husband and I were out to dinner recently and one of the guys working the valet parking was a young man we had not seen in several years, but had met at our church in a recovery focused church service we were involved in. We had befriended him back then as he first came into recovery and watched his first year following treatment. We wondered how long it had been since we had actually seen him. We went up and gave him a hug and chatted a minute before returning to our table. He informed my husband that he would be celebrating his 10th year of continuous sobriety the following week. We were astounded that it had been that long and were so excited to realize he had succeeded in staying sober that long. Frankly, we had wondered if he would be one of the success stories. Last Tuesday, at 10:00 that evening, my husband headed out to attend his 12-step birthday celebration and was able to see the tremendous change in his life as well as the impact he has had on many who followed him. We talked about him for days. It is such a joy to witness those successes.
That is why the treatment industry is important to me.
What keeps you motivated?
Stories like the one above. When you see personal examples of treatment working, when you know where they started and see that they actually succeeded, it makes it a lot easier to remember the mission that drew me to this field in the first place. It is not the sadness of the ones who don’t find recovery that motivates me. It is the joy of watching the ones who do succeed that reminds me that I am lucky enough to have a job where finding meaning in my work is as simple as bumping into someone on the street and having them remind you of when you first met…and seeing them healthy and happy. I also really enjoy mentoring young leaders, and particularly women in healthcare. Most of my mentors 30 years ago were men. And they taught me so many valuable lessons and skills. I am now able to pass those lessons on to other women and men who work for me and when I see their careers take off – that is one of my favorite things as a leader. That is a high motivator for me.
What leader or leaders do you look up to and why?
There are world leaders I admire – Barak Obama, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Margaret Thatcher, and Jimmy Carter who always led out of his values… but the leaders who have had the strongest impact on me are those who taught me to lead in person–my mother, who taught me to respect everyone but stand by my convictions and lead with a soft touch but clear guidance and instruction. Past bosses, like Chuck Webb, one of my earliest CEO’s in the healthcare world, taught me to listen more than talk and build genuine relationships with my team. He taught me how to build my own credibility through my relationship with my team. My own father taught me to pay attention to the details and always be expanding your skills. And some of the strong women who have worked beside me, been my friends and confidantes and also worked for me…. they have taught me to use my natural gifts as a woman to lead out of a place of compassion and integrity.
If you could work on solving one problem in the world, what one problem would it be?
Lack of connectedness. That touches so many other massive challenges – hunger, mental illness, addiction, poverty… if we learned to better live and work from a place of interconnectedness and value for the person beside us, above us and below us, we could tackle so many of these other cancers on our society more effectively. People in loneliness and isolation are not in a position to better themselves or contribute to the betterment of others.
What’s the most interesting thing about you that isn’t on your resume?
I actually have a pretty decent singing voice. I would have loved to have been a professional performer. I would have loved to have been a Natalie Cole. I sing in the car and in church to get it out of my system, but I still have moments when I wish I was on a stage somewhere belting out tunes in dark theatres.