Ben Lipschitz – START Treatment & Recovery Centers, Inc.
Ask any in-house attorney what they want from their position, and many of them will answer that they seek an opportunity to have a greater impact on the business.
Many have no business asking for a seat at that table, but that is not true of Ben Lipschitz. You see, Lipschitz, a seasoned attorney with years of experience providing strategic legal guidance and support to his clients, including New York City government agencies, large hospital groups, multi-disciplinary clinical offices and small healthcare practices, also has experience in business—more specifically, founding, owning, operating and selling his own business.
“For any ongoing business venture, business development and understanding the client’s business is key. I have used my business experience and customer focus in my legal support roles,” he says.
His current role? General counsel for START Treatment & Recovery Centers in New York City, an organization that has been providing addiction treatment and mental health services and engaging in significant research projects towards the care of its patients since 1969.
START, a New York City-based not-for-profit organization, offers patient-centered and evidence-based healthcare, including medication for addiction treatment for opioid addictions, mental health counseling, psychotherapy, hepatitis C and HIV screenings, and primary care. START is expanding its focus on the social determinants of health—housing, food insecurity, education and vocational training—to support its patients further.
But frequently changing local, state, and federal rules—and how such rules may be interpreted and applied—on issues that range from payer reimbursements, fraud and abuse, patient confidentiality, and controlled substances present challenges and opportunities for START to do more for its patients, effecting lasting change for these individuals so that they may thrive within their communities.
“As documented by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 85 percent of people with a drug use disorder go untreated; START’s mission includes finding opportunities to improve access to treatment and care, ensuring equitable participation for underserved parts of the city and underserved communities, and effectively meeting people where they are as a community-based organization,” Lipschitz says.
Protecting the business
Lipschitz’s responsibilities to START are vast and varied—which is how he likes it. He is a vital force behind the scenes and navigates the legal and compliance aspects of the organization’s operations, ideating best practice solutions that support core clinical care departments and that support human resources, finance, real property management, information technology, and program development, ensuring the core business and its support functions meet their objectives while aligning with legal and ethical obligations. Lipschitz also works closely with the board of directors to develop and ensure good corporate governance.
One of the most crucial areas Lipschitz addresses is the protection of patient confidentiality and combating fraud. With heightened patient confidentiality regulations under federal law, patient information must remain strictly confidential because of the nature of the treatment START provides.
For example, under HIPAA laws, a hospital or healthcare organization can say whether a patient receives care in a specific facility. However, under federal 42 CFR Part 2 regulations, START or any similar organization cannot answer whether someone is receiving treatment. It means a lot of time is spent continuing the education of START employees to teach what they are and are not allowed to say.
“The stigma associated with receiving treatment or being referred for treatment led to the need for strict confidentiality measures,” he says. “This legal framework is crucial in protecting patients from potential discrimination and preserving their privacy, which increases the likelihood that our patients will seek and remain in treatment.”
The power of education and public advocacy is paramount in normalizing discussions about addiction and mental health, Lipschitz says. START actively engages with communities, schools, and other organizations to raise awareness, prevent addiction, and promote holistic treatment approaches, and Lipschitz is there to provide any legal support when necessary.
Lipschitz also tackles fraud-related issues, including billing fraud and beneficiary inducement restrictions, as mandated by federal and state fraud, waste, and abuse laws, which are a priority at START. However, Lipschitz strikes a delicate balance as healthcare providers aim to provide necessary assistance, such as food assistance for homeless patients, without violating regulatory guidelines. Legal compliance obligations extend to various operational areas, including the secure disposal of medication bottles and strict rules regarding employee behavior and communication.
A seat at the table
Despite his day-to-day legal responsibilities, Lipschitz takes an active role on the business side of the operation, leaning on his years of experience running his own company.
He negotiates contracts that minimize risk but encourage business growth, manages legal matters related to labor (about 45 percent of START’s employees work under a collective bargaining agreement) and employment law, and deals with issues concerning building violations and related legal compliance obligations. His ability to handle diverse matters with composure and expertise greatly contributes to the organization’s success.
START provides services in six locations across New York City, and the organization is fortunate to own five of those buildings, which provides flexibility for further growth.
Lipschitz is constantly exploring opportunities to acquire and manage other businesses more effectively, utilizing the organization’s experience and unique position in the industry. He collaborates with other departments to develop products and services that enhance START’s offerings to the community.
With mental health and addiction becoming increasingly prevalent, exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic, Lipschitz says START recognizes the need for greater community outreach, education and public advocacy. Lipschitz and his legal and compliance team have supported START, which is collaborating with schools and with various community-based organizations to raise awareness and prevent addiction.
Despite the progress made in addiction and mental health treatment, challenges persist. Staffing continues to be a hurdle within the healthcare space, making it essential for organizations like START to attract qualified professionals. Lipschitz has helped clinical departments re-think their organizational structure, allowing the organization to consider other clinical practitioners and find legally permissible exceptions to credentialing requirements, thereby increasing the pool of eligible professionals. Meanwhile, START continues to invest in training its providers to ensure the highest quality of care for its patients.
Lipschitz highlights the shortage of opioid treatment programs in the U.S. and the pushback such programs often face from communities due to concerns about loitering and neighborhood impact. Overcoming these challenges requires collaboration with local authorities, financial support from legislators and ongoing efforts to dispel stigma.
“The more we can show the community that our programs work and the more programs and services we can introduce, the better we’ll achieve our mission,” Lipschitz notes.
Veering left, feeling right
Lipschitz says his interest in business and law goes way back, and he earned a degree in public accounting from Pace University in New York City to give himself substantive business acumen. While attending Pace, he worked part-time as a legal assistant at a real estate litigation firm, obtaining valuable experience working with clients, performing legal research, and appearing in court.
After earning a J.D. from New York Law School, Lipschitz spent about four years as an assistant general counsel for the Department of Information, Technology, and Telecommunications of the City of New York—in that role, he worked with other city agencies, negotiated contracts between the city and large media and IT companies, responded to federal and state regulatory rulemakings and developed proposals to further the city’s interests.
After several years in-house, the business bug caught Lipschitz, leading him to create a food gifts company. Lipschitz oversaw business development, digital marketing, operations, and legal needs for about a decade. After selling the company, he returned to law full-time.
After a few years as general counsel for a marketing company that serviced small and mid-sized healthcare clients and a brief period directly servicing healthcare clients, Lipschitz continued his career in-house for large general hospitals. He worked as a hospital counsel for MedStar Health in Virginia and Maryland and then returned to New York City to work for NYU Langone Health. Then, he spent over a year as general counsel for YO1 Wellness Center—a purpose-built wellness facility that has sought to introduce Eastern medical concepts to the U.S. He joined START in his current position in January 2020.
“My interest in law stems from my keen interest in and ability to solve problems, and the telecommunication and healthcare industries have numerous legal problems because they are heavily regulated sectors,” Lipschitz says.
While he never worked at a law firm, Lipschitz says he understands why some people feel the law firm-to-in-house tract works for them. It is a more specialized form of practicing law—Lipschitz has always focused on being a generalist who knows how to do many things well.
That mindset has helped immensely in his role at START, especially as the organization continues to grow its services and launch new programs to help the community and the people it serves.
“We have a new CEO, so it feels like a new era for START. I’m invigorated and excited to watch the company grow and to grow with it,” Lipschitz says.
View this feature in the Vanguard Winter II 2024 Edition here.
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