How GPOs Can Support Behavioral Health and Addiction Rehab Facilities

June 17, 2019
Group therapy session
The number of healthcare facilities that can treat people—both adults and children—who suffer from behavioral issues and addictions is growing. Part of the reason is the ongoing opioid epidemic and other drug abuse, with about 1 in 10 people struggling with some level of substance use, according to a study on drug use.  

Behavioral and treatment facilities have similar needs to other healthcare organizations, like food, prescription drugs, purchased services and staffing, yet they’re also distinctly different. For example, a facility for behavior or addiction requires products that cannot be disassembled to pose a threat for self-harm or harming others.

These facilities present an untapped opportunity for group purchasing organizations (GPOs). Traditionally, GPOs have not worked with behavioral and treatment organizations, but as these facilities grow and expand, they can rely on GPOs to meet their specialized needs. But first, GPOs must understand these companies’ businesses and identify pain points where they can provide the most value.  

“We have to do everything from making sure we have products on contract that meet their specific risk-management needs to making sure contracted vendors are trained in the nuances of these facilities,” says Kirstin Watts, Provista sales executive.


Behavioral and addiction facilities buy many low-cost commodity items, and those costs add up. Some products may seem unusual, such as coloring books and Play-Doh that patients use as part of their care. All products must meet a specific requirement—they cannot present a risk to patients. 

“This requires making sure that everything that goes into a facility has been vetted,” Watts notes. “For example, a behavior health facility cannot use a spiral bound notebook because the spirals are a strangulation hazard, so notebooks have to be stitched. A standard hand sanitizer dispenser has a ligature risk, so we need ones that aren’t a risk.” 

Product installation is also critical. Watts cites a coffee service supplier that installed a coffee machine in a behavioral facility, but didn’t bolt it to the counter. A patient picked up the machine and threw it across the room. 

“It falls to everyone—the member, GPO and distributor—to be responsible for making sure products and installations meet facility’s needs,” Watts explains. “There has to be a system of checks and balances in place. Maybe it’s a standard operating procedure document for behavioral health.”

“It falls to everyone—the member, GPO and distributor—to be responsible for making sure products and installations meet facility’s needs.”


Many of these organizations have a problem and don’t even know it—they’re overpaying and adding to their workloads by not using a GPO.

“Some of it is that they don’t necessarily know that GPOs exist and how we operate,” Watts points out. “If they’re using a GPO, they’re not using one that specializes in non-acute. A lot of these organizations are new, so there are a lot of growing pains. Business practices that worked when they were small are not scalable for best practices as they grow.” 

GPOs can offer the same value they deliver to other healthcare organizations—once they identify areas where they can play pivotal roles. The barrier GPOs face is that at a strategic level, they’re still determining how to best serve behavioral and treatment centers. 


One area where GPOs know they can provide immediate value is through their contract portfolios. For example, Provista partnerships with industry-leading companies like Office Depot can connect facilities to products at discounted pricing, even if they’re not high-volume items like coloring crayons and paper. Facilities can see significant savings by using contracts for high-spend items like food. Again, the needs in this space differ from traditional healthcare providers. 

“People going through substance abuse therapy have dietary needs that are very different,” Watts notes. “For people who have been homeless, undernourished or malnourished, their food needs are also very different. They need menu planning and foods that will not make them sick.”  

Supplements often play a big role in the diets. People undergoing addiction treatment or are malnourished have higher caloric needs than others, and supplements provide those additional calories. 

GPOs can also help with labs and drug testing. For example, most facilities providing addiction treatment use drugs like Suboxone to suppress residents’ desire for opioids. However, if the person is still taking an opioid, the treatment drug could have negative, even fatal, consequences. 

“They have to take a drug test to make sure they’re not on an opioid,” Watts says. “Historically, Suboxone clinics have had a lab onsite to do the test. Technology is available that allows those organizations to do it themselves, probably at a lower cost, and they can also be reimbursed for it. So, we’re looking at designing a lab program specific to this space.” 

With Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals backlogged and a high number of veteran suicides, addiction and behavioral issues are filling an important role. One of Provista’s members, a behavior health facility, works with military personnel. 

“A lot of that work is with active duty military,” Watts says. “Soldiers are returning home who want to remain active duty and need to be treated. The goal is to treat them and keep them active duty.”

Like other healthcare organizations, addiction and behavioral facilities are facing cost-containment pressures. 

“These facilities are paid a flat fee per day that has to cover labs, laundry, occupational art supplies, food, medication, med-surg supplies, supplements and the list goes on and on,” Watts points out. “Cost-containment is obviously really important, particularly in scenarios where the facilities are owned by a private equity firm. Those investors are looking for a return on their investment, so there’s a lot of pressure from both ends.”  

The more the facilities can use GPO contracts, the more they’ll be able to contain costs and better serve their patients.

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