Features

Bill Sutton – New Season

The legal leader on the road to recovery

Bill Sutton, having overseen legal, compliance, and privacy at another national laboratory company from 2013 to 2019, recognized the opportunity for a new revenue stream when he became general counsel at New Season Treatment Centers in Maitland, Florida, five years ago. 

New Season is a national operator of outpatient opioid treatment clinics.  Shortly after joining New Season in January 2019, he advised the then-chief executive officer how much more efficient it would be to have their own drug screening lab for the Florida patients being treated for opioid addiction at 30 clinics stretching from Hollywood to Jacksonville to Pensacola. 

Bill Sutton | General Counsel | New Season

Bill Sutton | General Counsel | New Season

Not only did John Steinbrun concur, but he also told Sutton to assemble this lab from scratch. 

“That’s not something you see assigned to most general counsels,” Sutton tells Vanguard in December with a good-natured laugh. “It’s become our pride and joy.” 

He didn’t do it alone; Sutton enlisted Rei Lopez, a clinical laboratorian he met while both worked for a previous employer, Aurora Diagnostics of Palm Beach Gardens, to oversee the ground-up operation in Orlando. While Lopez would be given specific parameters, he wouldn’t be micromanaged.  

Sutton and Lopez located a site and leased space, and by early 2021, the lab was running. Today, New Seasons lab processes 12,000-plus urine samples monthly. With Lopez in charge of lab operations and Sutton responsible for the lab’s management and oversight, the men say turnaround time has been much quicker than when New Season outsourced its drug screens. 

“Ultimately, the patients benefit,” Sutton says. “Nobody else could do a better job than us in terms of service and performance.” 

But, as he’s quick to say, that’s not to mean everything proceeds swimmingly. Treatment clinics comprise a complicated and closely watched undertaking for which keen legal and business acumen is necessary. 

Compliance and payments 

Chief among the challenges are regulatory compliance and third-party payments. New Season operates over 90 clinics in 20 states and treats over 30,000 patients daily. Sutton must ensure adherence to the rules and regulations of at least four government agencies—two each on federal and state fronts. Furthermore, he says those agencies don’t communicate well with each other, which constantly creates regulatory gray areas for the company to navigate. 

Privacy might be the most sensitive issue, and Sutton sees that New Season staffers are mentored in what they can and cannot reveal to external parties. While law enforcement or child protective service agencies might have a legitimate reason to access a patient’s medical records, Sutton reminds that federal regulations for substance use disorder patient information are considerably more stringent than compared to other healthcare privacy regulations. Nevertheless, with some parties trying to circumvent protocols, he emphasizes that New Season will counter most efforts to adversely use information against a patient who probably has endured enough discrimination. 

Bill Sutton | General Counsel New Season

“There is a stigma associated with the disease of addiction,” Sutton laments. “People are naturally afraid of someone finding out they are in treatment, and we try to protect them. I step into these situations so our clinical staff can concentrate on caring for patients.” 

Then there’s the challenge of getting paid for New Season’s life-saving services. While the 35-year-old company has evolved from self-pay to coverage by Medicare, Medicaid and commercial insurance, Sutton says dealing with third-party payers is becoming increasingly complex.  

As a one-man legal department, Sutton’s responsibilities include regulatory counseling, contract review, dispute resolution and managing litigation. The heavy load notwithstanding, he defers credit to whom he considers the real heroes at New Season.  

“The counselors, nurses, clinic managers—these are incredibly selfless people who come in every day and do a very hard job, and I’m here for them, to support them,” he says, noting how burnout in this profession necessitates a constant search for qualified clinicians. “They’re dealing with a very significant problem impacting this entire country. I can’t say enough great things about them. That’s why I’m doing this.” 

Mission-driven 

Sutton’s background prepared him for this responsibility. Call him a Triple Seminole—a Florida State University alumnus with an accounting degree, MBA and juris doctorate, all earned on the Tallahassee campus. 

He honed his legal skills with the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps, representing soldiers at court-martial, sometimes during Desert Shield and Desert Storm in Iraq during the early 1990s.  Afterward came five years with the Florida Attorney General’s Office and then a 1997-to-1999 stint as assistant general counsel for the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, with him pursuing Medicaid fraud. 

Since then, it’s been the private sector, with Sutton serving stints with Greenberg Traurig and Ruden McClosky. In 2006, he took the first of his healthcare general counsel positions with a seven-year run at Advanced Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery, following that with Aurora Diagnostics from 2013 to 2019, and finally to New Season, which might prove to be his most consequential role. 

Opioid abuse spares no class, he says, noting that addicts include everyone from the homeless sharing syringes to the well-to-do abusing medication once prescribed for an injury. According to Sutton, the sooner society recognizes opioid addiction as the disease it is, the sooner it can be seriously mitigated through a national solution.  Until then, the responsibility largely falls upon New Season and other clinics. 

How satisfying Sutton says it is when a patient decides to enter treatment and gets their addiction under control. There’s really no simple solution for the opioid epidemic, but New Season has put many people on the road to recovery, and Sutton wants their stories to be told. After all, so many others are struggling with the same issues.  

“Whenever I tell people what I do, they always want to talk about the opioid epidemic,” Sutton says. “No matter whom I talk to, somebody they know has been affected. Nobody’s immune. I’m just a cog in the battle of an overwhelming crisis plaguing our country.” 

 

View this feature in the Vanguard Winter II 2024 Edition here.

Published on: January 29, 2024

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