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Fairwinds Offers Truly Integrated Dual Diagnosis Care
September 2007
Thousands Claim Dual Diagnosis Capability, But Few Can Really Treat Hard Cases

Fairwinds Treatment CenterIn the 1970s, Dr. M.K. El-Yousef was on the psychiatry faculty at Vanderbilt University, treating a wide variety of patients and conducting research. While at Vanderbilt, Dr. El-Yousef began to notice a pattern. “Many of the patients that we treated that did not show progress had strong co-occurring problems with substance abuse,” says Dr. El-Yousef, adding that one patient had gone to AA, with outstanding results.

“I remember he came back to see me about a year later, and I didn’t recognize him he looked so good,” says Dr. El- Yousef, who later moved on to start practicing in the St. Petersburg, FL, area. Dr. El-Yousef was instrumental in starting a couple of hospitals in the region, and after the second one was sold to HCA in the early 1980s, he found himself looking around for something to do.

Having not forgotten his experience while at Vanderbilt, Dr. El-Yousef opened Fairwinds Treatment Center in 1982, one of the very earliest pioneering centers specializing in the treatment of co-occurring psychiatric and addictive disorders.

Initially treating patients out of a converted hotel in Saint Pete Beach, Dr. El-Yousef gathered investors, later building a specialty dual diagnosis center that opened nearby in Clearwater in 1989.

With a strong speciality in eating disorders, specifically dangerous and hard to treat acute anorexia nervosa, Fairwinds has grown into a highly successful 30-bed clinic with an excellent financial performance. With 10 beds devoted to eating disorders, and the rest to substance abuse, Fairwinds is one of the few centers nationwide that has a dual psychiatric and substance abuse licensure to back up its claims of dual diagnosis treatment capability.

This means that Fairwinds is also one of the few specialty centers with a strong capacity to treat the 50 percent of the significantly mentally ill that are estimated to also have a serious problem with substance abuse.

“Clearly, if someone is looking for truly integrated dual diagnosis care, they should be looking for dual licensure,” says Dr. El-Yousef. SAMHSA estimates that in 2005 there were over 5,000 centers in the United States that claimed capability to treat those with co-occurring disorders, or almost 40 percent of all U.S. treatment centers.

Dr. M.K. El-Yousef, Founder, Fairwinds Treatment CenterBut in its March 2006 Special Report: Dual Diagnosis and Co-Occurring Disorders, Treatment Magazine pointed out that, as dual diagnosis centers proliferate, relatively few are able to live up to the claim. Some appear to use the dual designation more as a marketing tool than anything else.

Dr. El-Yousef agrees. And Fairwinds administrator Mazhar Al-Abed says that the center often gets calls from other treatment facilities asking for help when they have taken on clients that it turns out they can’t handle, with some later requesting that Fairwinds take over a patient’s care. As is common among those that treat dual diagnosis patients, Dr. El-Yousef says that, in many cases, those that come in with psychiatric symptomology lose the symptoms once they get off drugs or alcohol, while many who arrive just as substance abuse cases wind up leaving with a psychiatric diagnosis.

“The diagnostic workup is critical,” says Dr. El-Yousef, adding that it requires very skilled medical and counseling professionals for accurate and insightful diagnoses, which in turn lead to strong positive outcomes.

It is outcomes that have driven widespread interest, both on a private pay basis and from commercial insurers, in the eating disorder program, which apart from anorexia also treats other eating disorders. The program was started by Dr. El-Yousef in 1989 with Dr. Pauline Powers of the University of South Florida, and many program clients are also treated for addiction problems. PD

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