Wellness Reimagined: Peter Piraino Of ‘Renewal Lodge by Burning Tree’ On 5 Things That Should Be Done To Improve and Reform The Health & Wellness Industry
An Interview With Maria Angelova
Keep talking about it. Opening up treatment options. Making treatment accessible and affordable.
In our world of constant change, and with life moving faster than ever, topics such as mental health, self-care, and prevention have become popular buzzwords. But there are misconceptions about the meaning of self-care and exercise. Many opt for quick solutions — surgery, pills — to dull the problem without adequately addressing the underlying cause. Meanwhile, many parts of the industry are unregulated and oversaturated. People with years of training are competing with people with weekend training. Many providers are overworked, overwhelmed, and underpaid. The public is not educated about asking the right questions when selecting a wellness provider. In the face of all this, what can be done to correct the status quo? In this interview series, we are seeking to hear from a variety of leaders in the health and wellness industries who agree that the wellness Industry needs an overhaul and offer suggestions about what can be done moving forward. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Peter Piraino. Peter is the CEO and Executive Clinical Director at Renewal Lodge by Burning Tree.
Thank you so much for doing this interview. It is an honor. Our readers would love to learn more about you and your personal background. Can you please share your personal backstory? What has brought you to this point in your life?
Drugs and alcohol became a part of my life by the age of 15. I was able to hide my addiction for several years while I was building a career with my brother owning and operating nightclubs along the East Coast. When I was 24, my cocaine addiction became crippling. Thankfully, my family saw the ravaging effects of my addiction and stepped in to intervene, encouraged me to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and seek professional help. I ended up in treatment for eight or nine days — the most that my insurance would cover — before connecting with a counselor and an intensive 90-day outpatient program. The program worked for me, but at the same time showed me where improvements could be made in how addiction is handled in this country. This was the catalyst for where I am now.
What is your “why” behind the work that you do? What fuels you?
Once I got sober, I had to find my new “why.” I had discovered a new passion for helping people, but was clueless how to marry that with my expertise in running businesses. Serendipitously, my counselor at the time had a similar background as mine and suggested I consider working with people struggling with addiction. This led me to earning a master’s degree and license in social work and starting my career at local outpatient centers and rehabs.
I found my work home at Burning Tree Programs in 2018. I was drawn to Burning Tree because they had developed successful programs for helping long-term chronic relapsers get sober and stay sober. This is what fuels me.
My work in other addiction facilities both frustrated and saddened me because I knew there had to be a better way. I would see patients enter the treatment center and only get short term solutions; ultimately sending them into a vicious cycle of relapse, treatment, relapse. What many treatment centers are failing to address is long-term recovery and how to stay sober, which is the most important piece of the puzzle. This is what we do at Burning Tree and why I’m so proud of being part of this company.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting new projects you are working on now?
Coming out on the other side of the pandemic we really wanted to focus on human connection. We took on a pretty sizable project. BT had an old 1920’s knight of Columbus hall that was going unused. We completely renovated this property and launched the Gail Standen Family and Training Institute. This space will be a community center. We offer family intensives, so loved ones of substance users can start their own journey of recovery. In addition we offer training for clinicians to learn how to utilize the modalities currently in practice at BT. As well as yoga classes, substance use awareness meetings and just about anything that can bring the community together to regain the connection we all lost during lockdowns.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of my first jobs was linking foster care youth with local services.I usually was given the kids who were going through some troubles beyond foster care, due to my background. Many of them had substance abuse issues or were involved with gangs or street violence. I had a 16 year old African American kid that I was working with. I would travel to his foster home to meet with him and he and I would jump in my car and go grab something to eat while we checked in. Most of the time it didn’t feel like work. He was a great kid with the biggest smile and great sense of humor. He and I would spend a good amount of time laughing and joking. Most of the kids just needed someone they could trust and talk openly with. One day that I was set to meet with him, I had to be in court for a different youth so I was wearing a suit. My car had also broken down so I borrowed a car which happened to be a crown vic. The neighborhood this young man lived in was predominantly African American and I am a 6’4 white male. So I pull up to his house and he is playing basketball with some friends. I say hey to him and ask if he’s ready to meet. His face goes blank and all the blood drains from it. His friends are looking at him and me and they start to circle around me. I’m thinking “man something bad must have happened”. Then it clicked for me. I look at him and say can I tell them where I work?( I didn’t want to violate his privacy). He shakes his head emphatically yes. So I took out my work identification and loudly let them know the agency where I was working and what I was doing there. Basically showing them that I was not a police officer and that he was not an informant. They ask me some questions and then all start to laugh at the situation. He looks at me and smiles and says “boy you almost got us killed out here”. I was relieved and laughed it off but in my head I was thinking” how could I be so stupid”. For a while it felt like I had forgotten all my past life experience. Really this experience taught me a couple things. First I had come pretty far from where I once was and that’s a good thing. Secondly, a lack of awareness of a situation, another’s culture or my surroundings could have dire consequences not only for me but to those I was trying to help.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. From where you stand, why are you passionate about the topic of Reimagining The Health and Wellness industries? Can you explain what you mean with a story or an example?
Because we can do better. Over 20 million Americans are in need of substance abuse treatment each year. Of those 20 million a meager 11% receive the care they need. We are losing over 70,000 Americans each year due to overdoses. That equates to a full southwest flight crashing every day. Overdose is now the leading cause of death for 18–45 year olds. If we continue to provide treatment in the way and at the rate we are today we will lose an entire generation of people. As an example we are in the process of trying to expand one of our facilities in Elgin Texas. We have been trying to get a building permit from the city for over 2 years. They have placed every major roadblock in our way that they can. While we are fighting the city people are being turned away from treatment. Our expansion looks to add 20 beds to our facility. That means while the city prevents us from building almost 500 people did not have access to lifesaving treatment. This type of situation is happening all over the country. The way we look at substance abuse and mental health has to change.
When I talk about Reimagining the Wellness industry, I am talking about reimagining it from the perspective of the providers as well as from the perspective of the recipients and patients. Can you share a few reasons why the status quo is not working for both providers and patients?
It’s been largely documented that the pandemic has taken a toll on our mental health. Stemming from isolation, stress, and uncertainty, mental health professionals have seen increased demand for their services in the United States. However, as I have mentioned nimbyism is rampant in our country. Compound this with a staffing crisis and insurance companies denying care and you are left with people dying in droves.
Why do you think there is a good opportunity now to improve and reform the health and wellness industry?
We are at a critical juncture; however, we are also at a point in society where normalizing mental health issues is becoming more accepted. Seeing treatment accepted, etc.
Can you please share your “5 Things That Should Be Done To Improve and Reform The Health & Wellness Industry”? Please share an example or story for each if you can.
- Addiction is a health issue just like any other disease and we have to start treating it as such. We can do this by working to end the stigmatization of addiction. The same language we use to discuss and describe other medical problems should also be applied when speaking about addiction.
- When it comes to families and our personal relationships, simply talking openly and engaging in honest conversations with each other about struggling with addiction can be both healing and helpful. We tend to shy away from these conversations because they are uncomfortable and painful, but it is the first step toward getting someone the help they need. If addiction is identified, families should immediately reach out to licensed individuals for professional help, this is extremely important and should always be the first step taken to get someone help.
- Upwards of 200 people per day die from overdose. As a society, we tend to say, “That’s so sad,” and move on. We must collectively realize that these numbers are unacceptable and rally against the fact that the reason some of these people are dying is because they do not have access to the proper treatment. There are still many states in this country where affordable, quality treatment is not available, and there is no conceivable way to make real progress in ending our addiction epidemic unless that changes.
From the recipient and patient side of the industry, can you please share a few ways that patients and recipients should reimagine what the wellness and healthcare industry should provide?
- Being more open to discussing their mental health problems.
- Asking for help.
- Knowing that treatment options aren’t the same as they used to be.
- Knowing they can get help.
What do you think are the biggest roadblocks to reforming the industry? What can be done to address those hurdles?
- When it comes to insurance, we desperately need a nationalized standardized medical necessity scale for all providers to abide by. Right now, insurance companies base treatment allowances by determining a person’s medical necessity — in other words, what is a person’s specific medical need for a particular treatment. While this makes sense, the “scale” has been left up to each insurance provider thus creating a system with too many variables. In addition, the insurance companies do not have to share the scale with the facilities providing treatment to a patient, forcing the facilities to guess as to what will be approved and allowed for every patient and every insurance plan.
– For example, Insurance Company A may determine treatment based on a person’s physical condition, while Insurance Company B may focus on mental illness diagnosis or socioeconomic situation. These factors can also vary regionally or by state within each insurance company, further complicating the process. Clinicians and operators are often flying in the dark.
– A standardized medical necessity scale and criteria used by all insurance providers would do wonders for ensuring that patients get the help that they desperately need.
2. It is a common practice for local politicians to intervene in the construction and operation of treatment centers in their districts. When politicians and community leaders care more about property values and perception than they do about their constituent’s lives, local treatment opportunities become inaccessible for many. This often leads to a higher percentage of deaths from overdose and drug addiction.
– To put an end to this practice, we need a standardized process allowing ethical substance abuse providers to operate without having to fight for approvals on a municipal or state level. You can dig further into my thoughts on this topic and my experience advising treatment agencies looking to operate in Long Island here.
3. It is no secret that the pharmaceutical industry is backed by powerful players and lobbyists who tend to put the business before the patient. The companies who were instrumental in creating the opioid epidemic are the exact same companies who developed the treatment for the epidemic months later. There has to be more legal accountability and transparency for these companies when it comes to how they market their products to our population. While there have been major improvements in the past decade, there is still so much work that needs to be done on this front.
I’m very passionate about the topic of proactive versus reactive self-care and healthcare. What do you think can be done to shift the industries towards a proactive healthcare approach? How can we shift the self-care mindset for consumers and providers alike?
Keep talking about it. Opening up treatment options. Making treatment accessible and affordable.
Thank you for all that great insight! Let’s start wrapping up. Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
During college, I had a professor share an anecdote with me about addiction recovery and care that really stuck. He said, “Our job is to put ourselves out of business.” While it seems counterintuitive, it is spot on.
Our priority is to get people well by developing ethical treatments rooted in science that help our patients recover, for the long-term.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)
Bill Wilson, one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the first person that comes to mind. His book, (Alcoholics Anonymous) changed my life. It made such a profound impact on me and how I carry myself through life. I would have loved to have had the opportunity to spend time with him, to get his take on addiction and alcoholism as a whole. I’d ask questions to better understand his purpose and what guided him through life.
I appreciate your time and valuable contribution. One last question, how can people reach or follow you?
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/burning-tree-programs.
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/burningtreeprograms.
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/BurningTreeTx.
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/burning_tree_programs.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.
About The Interviewer: Maria Angelova, MBA is a disruptor, author, motivational speaker, body-mind expert, Pilates teacher and founder and CEO of Rebellious Intl. As a disruptor, Maria is on a mission to change the face of the wellness industry by shifting the self-care mindset for consumers and providers alike. As a mind-body coach, Maria’s superpower is alignment which helps clients create a strong body and a calm mind so they can live a life of freedom, happiness and fulfillment. Prior to founding Rebellious Intl, Maria was a Finance Director and a professional with 17+ years of progressive corporate experience in the Telecommunications, Finance, and Insurance industries. Born in Bulgaria, Maria moved to the United States in 1992. She graduated summa cum laude from both Georgia State University (MBA, Finance) and the University of Georgia (BBA, Finance). Maria’s favorite job is being a mom. Maria enjoys learning, coaching, creating authentic connections, working out, Latin dancing, traveling, and spending time with her tribe. To contact Maria, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. To schedule a free consultation, click here.