S4 E9: Hamilton Baiden on Recovery for Busy Professionals

Released November 16, 2021

Many high achievers in business want to seek treatment for their addiction. However, they may be hesitant due to fear of stigma among colleagues or not wanting to be away from their careers for too long. Heritage Health Solutions President Hamilton Baiden says that it doesn’t have to be that way and that everyone should have access to treatment. But what does that look like?   

Podcast Transcript

Hamilton Baiden: The statistics are just outrageous. 22 Veterans died by suicide every single day in this country and about 80% of them have, at one-point, struggled with substance misuse. When you think about individuals that are incarcerated, believe it or not, the lowest number I’ve ever heard is 65% of people in jail or prison had full-blown substance use of some sort. 

It’s crazy. And basically, I got very frustrated that we’ve spent billions and billions of dollars on this problem through the public sector and the numbers never changed. 

Dominic Lawson: Welcome to Beyond Theory. A podcast powered by Meadows Behavioral Healthcare that brings you in-depth conversations with firsthand insights from the frontlines of mental health and addiction recovery. I’m Dominic Lawson.  

Many high achievers in business want to seek treatment for their addiction. However, they may be hesitant due to fear of stigma among colleagues or not wanting to be away from their careers for too long. Heritage Health Solutions President Hamilton Baiden says that it doesn’t have to be that way and that everyone should have access to treatment. But what does that look like?

Let’s get out of the abstract and see how this applies in the real world. It’s time to go Beyond Theory.  

Hamilton Baiden: My name is Hamilton Baiden. I am the president of Heritage Health Solutions. 

Dominic Lawson: Hamilton, thank you so much for coming on the Beyond Theory podcast. If you would, just kind of share with us your background, if you don’t mind. 

Hamilton Baiden: First and foremost, thanks for the invitation. This is an honor for me. I grew up in healthcare, started my journey around 30 years ago, spent many years in the pharmaceuticals manufacturing world. I was a sales representative. I called on offices, I called on hospitals. And about 10 to 12 years into that journey I got promoted into what I called the business side of pharmaceuticals. My expertise becomes distributions and basically what I would do is I would work with specialty pharmacies around the countries. We will build a distribution network for our products and then manage this network. I became very friendly with a number of specialty pharmacies around the country. 

Do you know what a specialty pharmacy is, by the chance? 

Dominic Lawson: No. If you will elaborate for me, that would be great. 

Hamilton Baiden: A specialty pharmacy is basically a general pharmacy, but they specialize in distinct disease states. These are very hard to manage medications from a critical standpoint, very expensive medication, and that really became my client. 15 years ago, I was approached by an individual, a guy named John Musil who is the founder and CEO of a company called The Apothecary Shop out of Arizona.  

And I came on board as his vice president of sales and marketing, was there for 13 years. And I was basically in charge of all the growth of the company. And in those 13 years, we took it from a $25 million to a $1.65 billion dollar company and sold it to Optum back in 2018. And at that time Optum asked me if I wanted to stay, but I don’t know how to say this other than just to say it: I had my field, I guess, of specialty pharmacy, and I made the decision to look at other opportunities. And that’s how I landed at Heritage.  

Dominic Lawson: Before we kind of move forward, the work that you do at Heritage Is very personal for you. I know the date June 25th is special for you as well. Talk about that background, if you don’t mind.  

Hamilton Baiden: I always say that I spent 30 years in healthcare. I’ve been blessed to have a pretty successful journey. And for 20 of those years I was in active addiction from alcohol and a bunch of other stuff. Alcohol was really my primary vice. I was an alcoholic and didn’t know it. I just thought I was a normal person that like to drink. And you drink when you are mad, you drink when you are happy, you drink to celebrate — everything that I did revolved around drinking, the restaurants that I went to. And full disclosure, it started to affect my life. It started to affect my marriage, primarily. Most people did not know that I had a struggle. As a matter of fact, when I jumped on a plane and flew to North Carolina to get sober, people were like, “What? You are not an alcoholic. What’s the problem?” But I woke up on June 25th of 2012 and my wife looked at me and said, “I love you but I’m not in love with you anymore.” And immediately I said, “No, no, no. I’ll stop. I won’t drink anymore.” Which was a total lie. I kind of meant it when I said it. But in the back of my head I was, Okay, how can I get out of this? How can I manipulate this? Because I didn’t think there was any way possible that I could go the rest of my life — or a week — without taking a drink.

I jumped on the plane the next night. Took the red-eye to North Carolina, checked myself into an inpatient rehab known as The Pavillon, and never touched another drink since then. And I know as well as most people that’s a very rare story, that doesn’t happen, but it was a life changing moment for me, and it’s changed my life for the better in almost every way possible. 

Dominic Lawson: Hamilton, I want to go back to the part where you went to North Carolina because in my prep there is a story where you’re in a meeting and somebody next to you kind of flips the switch for you a little bit. Kind of talk about that story, if you don’t mind. 

Hamilton Baiden: Yeah, that’s fascinating. There’s a lot of people that say you have this, like, I don’t know if you call it a come-to-Jesus moment or a lightning strike where you just all the sudden get clarity. And I didn’t believe that, but it happened to me. And I got to rehab. My last drink was on Sunday. Monday morning, I had to talk with my wife. I flew to rehab and I ended up, I flew to North Carolina, entered rehab on that Wednesday, and the first day was a blur. I was like: “Oh God. What did I get myself into?” And the second day, we were having a meeting — we have meetings every day, AA or NA — and I shared, you know, if I had a bottle of wine, I could open it, I could have two drinks, and I could stop. Which, looking back on it, I think I really believed that. I don’t know if it was true or not, and I passed. And the next person, he raised his hand and he said, “You know what, Hamilton? I’m just like you. The only difference is I would want to drink the entire bar.”

And when he said that, I can’t explain it. I had my Big Book open, and it was literally like somebody hit me with a bolt of lightning right between the eyeballs. And I looked up and I said, “I’m an alcoholic.” And I had struggled for many years. I had gone to IOP. I had gone to AA meetings. And I actually irritated a lot of people because I’m just a very honest person, and you’re supposed to say: “My name is Hamilton and I’m an alcoholic.” And I wouldn’t say that because I really didn’t know what I was. And at that moment I knew I was an alcoholic. And the reason I knew it, something clicked with me that I did not drink like a normal person. And as soon as I had that clarity, I was done. I don’t know how to explain it. 

It had never occurred to me that I wasn’t a normal drinker. I just assumed that everybody was like that. And that one comment from that guy changed everything for me. And that’s just the way I view it. My wife will ask me now if she could give me a pill, if there was a magic pill that you could take, it will let you have two drinks and stop. Would you take it? 

I’m like, “absolutely not because I don’t want to be a normal drinker. If I’m going to drink, I want to drink and I’m going to drink until I feel great, which is forever. To me, I just choose no, not to drink, and it’s made all the difference in the world.  

Dominic Lawson: I know that you often talk, Hamilton, about, like, how difficult recovery is. Talk about that journey a little bit before we kind of transition forward a little bit. 

Hamilton Baiden: Everybody has their own journey. Which is, I think, is one of the most important things that I want people to know. They’re not one size fits all. And to me that’s kind of a problem that we have in this industry is it’s black and white. You’re either in recovery or you’re not. You’re either not drinking or not using drugs or not drinking to excess or you are.

And my journey was, when I got sober, it’s actually a fascinating story. So, when my wife woke up that morning and told me she was done, she meant it. I never cheated on my wife. There was no physical abuse or anything like that. She just was tired of the emotional toll and the roller coaster. And when she was done, she was done. So, I went to rehab. She never came to the family program. And I don’t blame her. She was at her wits’ end. So, when I came back, I was “better,” I still had my journey to do, but my wife wasn’t. She had not done any work on her side, and so for five months we fought like cats and dogs. It was bad. I feel like my sponsor was more of a marriage counselor than anything else. And we went through it for about five months.

Finally, I put my foot down and I said, “Look, I’ve done the work. I’ve changed, and if you’re not going to support me then I’m done.” And I moved out. We were separated for about five weeks. And lo and behold, we had a conversation one day, kind of out of the blue, unexpected, and her attitude completely shifted. And she agreed that she didn’t support me and that she missed me. And I flew back from New York that weekend and we’ve been together ever since. Never been happier, never been more in love.

And what I normally tell people is just because you get sober doesn’t mean that everything fixes itself. You still have financial issues. You still could potentially get fired from your job. Your wife may leave you. Whatever the situation may be. But what’s fascinating about it is you finally handled those things as an adult. I just don’t know how to explain it other than I grew up immediately. For so long, whether it’s financial issues or emotional issues, it was just “go drink and it will take care of itself.” And now things happen, bad things are going to happen, but it’s how you approach them is really what makes all the difference. And since that day I had a pretty good track record of being peaceful and just working through the problem and getting out the other side. Which has been a Godsend to me, and my family for that matter.                           

Dominic Lawson: Hamilton, that journey has culminated into the work that you do at Heritage CARES. I know you’ve recently been appointed president up there. Congratulations, first and foremost, but I want to ask you: just talk about the work that you guys do at Heritage Care. 

Hamilton Baiden:  In order to do that I need to take a step back and kind of tell you how we got here. Heritage Health Solutions is our parent company, that’s the company that I’m the president of then. And Heritage is an integrated health care management company.

What does that mean? It means that we manage the health care behind the scenes of the number of the public entities. We’ve been in business for about 15 years. We do a lot of work with Veterans Affairs. We hold about 65 contracts on the pharmacy side. We also run the healthcare for all detainees in the custody of the US Marshals. And that was the business when I got here. And one of the things I noticed very quickly is if you think about our 2 groups of patients, you’ve got Veterans and you’ve got individuals who are, incarcerated either in jail or prison through the marshals. Not a lot of people connect those dots. Unfortunately, if you think about those two groups, the dots connect in a very not-so-good way. You’ve got suicides and you’ve got substance misuse. The statistics are just outrageous.  Twenty-two Veterans die by suicide every single day in this country and about 80% of them have at one point struggled with substance misuse. 

When you think about individuals that are incarcerated, believe it or not, the lowest number I’ve ever heard is 65% of people in jail or prison had full blown substance use disorder. It’s crazy. And basically, I got very frustrated that we’ve spent billions and billions of dollars on this problem through the public sector and the numbers never change. They’re the same every year, 22 Vets died by suicide, and now that we’ve had the pandemic, the numbers are rising even more.  

So, we took a step back and we said, “Okay, we think we can help Veterans and individuals in jail or prison. What about the general population?” And what we found was astounding. The numbers are almost just as bad: 46% of Americans struggle with substance misuse or they have a loved one that struggles.  

The one statistic while going through this that I learned that really kind of blew me away was the family. There is a recent Gallup poll that showed that 18% of family members say that they go home to active addiction. Not just substance misuse but active addiction. And we believe that number’s going up during the pandemic.  

So, think about that for a second. If you’re working a job, 20% of your colleagues go home to a spouse or a child that’s struggling with addiction. And what’s amazing is they’re stressed, they’re sick, they may not show up at work all the time. Presentism is nonexistent in a lot of these people.  But what is more fascinating is they actually did a study, The Snyder Health Institute did a study on the family members of addicts and found that they’re five times as likely to be hospitalized in a given year. As an employer, you have 20% of your workforce that sick’s but there is no code for being a family member of an addict. We saw that there is this issue and we thought that there might be a solution. The main question we had to ask ourselves is: “Out of all the people that struggle today, how many people go get help?”

Now we know there’s great treatment out there for people that need help. The Meadows is, without question, one of the best. And there’s a lot of other ones out there. And there’s new ones coming to market all the time. I mean Talkspace is in this space. Lyra is in this space. But what we found out was, of all the people that struggled, only 10% ever get helped.

So, why is that? Well, the reason is very simple. For 70 years, the way we treated people that struggled with this is we’ve said: “Hamilton, you got a problem and when you’re ready, you need to raise your hand and admit you have a problem and we’ll help you.” And that means you’re going to quit, you’re going to quit forever.” And there are great things like AA and the 12 Steps and NA and cognitive behavioral therapy or rehab, but we wait for people to be ready to get help. And that just, it works, it worked for me, but it doesn’t work for enough people. And for that reason, 90% of people, they just sit and they struggle. And so we created Heritage CARES as a way to combat that, to really offer gaps to what’s going on in the treatment world today. 

Dominic Lawson: Hamilton, just a follow up. How do you reach that 90%? What does that look like? What does the strategy look like?  

Hamilton Baiden: That’s a great question. The original idea was to go to the employer. I firmly believe that most people love their job, most people want to keep their job, probably more importantly. And I do believe that the employer can really change the face of addiction. It’s changed a little bit. We’re now working with The Meadows. We’re also working in the reentry space, which we can talk about. But ideally, the idea was, “how do we get employees to engage in a manner that they’re not currently doing?” What Heritage CARES starts with is this learning management system we created called YouTurn. YouTurn is now the largest collection of counselor-led, evidence-based videos in the country really focusing on three things: stress, substance misuse, and suicide.

We spent a lot of money creating this platform. We set it up very much like Netflix, so you’ll have a story or a module with episodes underneath it. It’s all micro-content to capture the person’s imagination. These are also real people. These are not avatars; these are not actors going through this. And basically, YouTurn is made available to the employees. And it’s 100% anonymous and confidential. We will never call out someone. If we launch this with an employer and an employee goes on and watches this video content about someone struggling with alcohol or cocaine or a family member struggling, we will never share that back with the organization. We’ll never call the individual out. We also do a lot of stress mitigation workshops and webinars. We do a lot of substance misuse and suicide webinars. And there’s lots of different tools we use to get the individuals comfortable with going on the platform and starting to engage.

There is also a very different vibe with YouTurn. We don’t label people. We don’t call people alcoholics and addicts. It’s really more about starting the journey and getting people engaged. And the reason why is (and again I go back to The Meadows) The Meadows is a phenomenal treatment program. I wish everybody could go to The Meadows. But people aren’t ready to start that journey there a lot of times until it gets so bad, until they hit “rock bottom,” where they are in enough pain that they raise their hand and go. Our real expertise in this whole journey is engagement. And what we know is this. This is fascinating: There’s a recent study done, if people keep trying to get better, if they stay engaged, 75% of them will reach remission or recover.  

The problem is very simple. People don’t remain engaged, and they don’t continue to try. And when they stop trying, they fall off and they continue to struggle. That’s our secret sauce. That’s what we’re good at, is getting people engaged. And YouTurn really starts that journey for people. 

Dominic Lawson: Hamilton, you’ve mentioned The Meadows quite often in this episode. I know that Heritage and The Meadows have entered a partnership. Kind of talk about that partnership and also kind of talk about why it was a great fit for Heritage to partner with The Meadows? 

Hamilton Baiden: Well, I’ll answer that question first.  

Dominic Lawson: Okay. 

Hamilton Baiden: My entire life I’ve heard the word The Meadows. It’s the gold standard, if you will, that’s my opinion, and I think a lot of people shared that opinion. It’s funny. I became very good friends with Sean Walsh who’s the CEO. And he took me on an incredible tour at The Meadows. And I looked at him and I said, “Now that I’ve gone through this tour,. I don’t know how the hell I got sober at the old place that I went to.” And I’m joking, obviously. The Pavillon was great for me, and it worked for me, and that was awesome. But they really are such a phenomenal organization and we share the same mantra and the same goals. And it was a no-brainer and an honor for us to work with The Meadows and to continue to work with them.

Now, the relationship is pretty interesting ‘cause when we started out on this journey we didn’t know if the treatment world would be a place that we would fit. We didn’t know it would be a competition because, again, we’re not clinicians. We’re not trying to cure people, if you will. What we’re trying to do is to engage them and start on this journey and keep them engaged. And if they need places like The Meadows, we’ll refer them there. But we don’t leave the individuals.  

Sean and I were having a meeting one day, also with Allan Benham, the COO. And they came back and they said, “You know what, Hamilton? We think there’s a really good opportunity to use Heritage CARES to support what we do.” The ideal way it works, the way we started with The Meadows is we have become an “aftercare program” for The Meadows for any military individuals and Veterans that go to treatment there.

So, they go for 30 days, they go for 45 days, whatever the involvement is. And when they leave, about five days before they leave, we get their information. We do a quick intake call. We connect them to one of our assertive community engagement peer coaches. We also give them access to YouTurn. And then we stay with that individual and their family, if applicable, for up to a year. And it’s literally all about making sure they show up, make sure they stay engaged, make sure they keep doing what they’re supposed to do. There is a saying in this world: Keep coming back; it works if you work it. Well, it doesn’t work if you don’t keep coming back. It’s our job to keep them coming back.

What’s been interesting around this model is we’ve started to work with other treatment centers, and we’ve come up with this very special way that we impact the entire unit, and here’s what it is. The ideal situation now is, let’s say Hamilton needs to go to rehab. I go to treatment. The day I step foot in treatment, the family is given Heritage CARES.  

The family gets an assertive community engagement family peer coach and access to YouTurn. Hamilton, while he’s safe and getting excellent care in treatment, the family is also getting care as well. The family is getting educated. They are learning things like boundaries and enablement and things like that. We’re teaching them stress reduction, coping skills, stuff like that. But what that does is it keeps the family from really calling in and interfering with the treatment that Hamilton is getting. What was amazing is I’ve learned through this journey that a number of treatment centers are struggling with AMAs, people leaving against medical advice. And what we’ve learned is 50 to 60% of those people that check out against medical advice are checking out due to family interference.  

So, without question, we believe by taking care of the family, we’re going to lower those numbers. We’re going to get Hamilton better while he’s in treatment because that’s what The Meadows and other treatment center, do well. Then when Hamilton leaves, he will roll into Heritage CARES with his family and we will stay with them for an entire year.  

We’re creating better outcomes for the treatment centers. We’re reducing AMA’s. We’re reducing the noise from the family coming back into rehab. And lower behold. We’re keeping people sober longer. God forbid if someone does relapses and need to go back to treatment. They’re still connected to the treatment center and they go right back where they came from. So, we’re helping people faster.  

Dominic Lawson: And it sounds like you’re taking a really comprehensive approach to the matter as well, wouldn’t you say, Hamilton? 

Hamilton Baiden: The cool thing about the model is we use the technology as a way to get to people. Let’s say I was coaching you. Let’s say I’m a coach for Heritage CARES and you are in recovery. Let’s say you get out of treatment and you’re staying up like watching TV. This is a real story that happened. Staying up like watching TV because, guess what, you didn’t get to watch TV in rehab for six weeks. Well, your wife is mad. She doesn’t get it. She doesn’t understand why you’re staying up late. She remembers your old behavior. She thinks you’re calling the dope man and doing something crazy like that.

We can intervene. We get out of the conversation with the individuals. We can say, “we want you to go to YouTurn and watch Ben’s story. Watch episode 2 and 3. It’s the same thing he dealt with.” The holy grail would be to get the wife to sit down with the individual and watch YouTurn 101. Which is a module that we’ve created specifically for family members, and by intervening that way and keeping the family educated and keeping about everybody on the same page we again get some of that noise out of the way. I’ll give you a perfect, this is a personal example. My wife, when I left for treatment, would have nothing to do with me, would have nothing to do with recovery. She did not go to the family program at the Pavillon. And again, I don’t blame her. She wasn’t ready. I guarantee you if a Heritage CARES family coach had been given to my wife and they called my wife and engaged her, she absolutely 100% wants to talk to that person, without question, and they could’ve gotten her to a much better place.  

By the time I got out of rehab, we would’ve been in a much better space than we were when I came out. And that five-month struggle that we had together — I would never change anything in my life, I think everything leads to great things, but the noise around everything could’ve been much different — we could’ve saved ourselves a lot of pain. And that’s where we the comprehensive nature of this comes in. We all know that this is a family disease.  

It’s not just an individual disease, and my personal opinion is the family gets left behind 90% of the time. There are not a lot of organizations that focus on the family, and we know two things: Number 1, we know if the family supports the individual and understands what’s going on, they all have a million times better chance to make it. We also know that in many instances the family is struggling more than the individual, and a lot of times we can get to the individual through the family. For all of those reasons, the family is always included in what we do. We don’t care if it’s a cousin, an aunt, an uncle, a brother, a stepbrother. We don’t care. They’re free. They’re included.   

Dominic Lawson: Thank you, Hamilton. I just have two more questions here for you on the Beyond Theory podcast. I noticed that a lot of people who have gone through addiction and recovery, some people are not as vocal as you are. Why do you choose to be as vocal as you are when it comes to this stuff?  
Hamilton Baiden: That’s a great question. That’s interesting. I can’t answer for other people. I don’t know if it’s the stigma; I don’t know if they’re just more private than me. I’ve always been an open book, and this is a part of my journey. What I will tell you is there is nothing in my life — I’ve been somewhat successful in the business sector, I’ve been successful in my family, done a lot of nonprofit work — there is nothing in my life that I’m more proud of than stopping drinking. Zero. Without question. My wife always gets mad at me because she goes: “What about our kids? What about our marriage?” Well, I’m proud of all those things as well. But you know what? Anybody can get married and anybody can have a child, and anybody can raise a healthy, happy child.  

I think it’s almost impossible for some people to do what I did, and I’m proud of it. And me being an addict and alcoholic is the root of everything that drives me. It makes my brain be very special and let me have a photographic memory. I had full academic scholarship to college. All of those things are part of me being an addict and an alcoholic. And the fact that I’ve been able to, whatever word you want to say – control it or beat it or get it to a place where I’m comfortable with it — it’s something I’m very proud of, that’s number one. The second thing it does is it holds me accountable. I meet people and within the first five minutes I’m telling them I’m in recovery. And I’m not a preacher, I’m not anything like that, but it holds me accountable. If I was to go for a drink today there would be a thousand people I’d have to call and tell, and a thousand of those people are going to be extremely disappointed.  

One thing it does is it holds me accountable, and then the last thing it does is I think it offers people hope. There’s maybe one in 10 people that are like, “Damn it. I’m sick of hearing this.” But there are maybe one out of 10 people that go, “Wow! This is a great story and I’m struggling or I know someone that’s struggling.” And they can get some hope or advice out of that. And so, for those three reasons it means it’s just very important. It’s a part of who I am. It’s nothing that I am ashamed of. It’s actually quite the opposite. I’m really proud of it. 

Dominic Lawson: Hamilton, last question. I’m actually just going to ask you to do this for me. You talked often about the 10% and the 90%. Talk directly to the 90% who wants to get help.

Hamilton Baiden: Oh my God. I’ve never had anybody ask me that question. What I would say is, number one, you’re not alone. The numbers don’t lie. We can sit here and we can try to switch them and we can try to say it’s not really a big problem, but it’s a big problem: 50% of Americans, roughly, either struggle or have someone close to them that struggles. So, number one: you’re not alone.  

What I would say that’s probably different from what most people in the recovery community would say — and again, I think I have some leg to stand on here because I got sober the traditional way — I would say it doesn’t have to be black and white. You don’t have to quit your job. You don’t have to check into rehab tomorrow. Now, maybe that’s the best place for you. You don’t have to quit forever. But what we found is most people that are misusing substances don’t want to live that life. They want to get better. They want a different way to change their life. But waking up one morning and leaving their job and leaving their family and checking in to treatment or doing this or doing that, it’s not in the cards for them. And our philosophy is we don’t not help those people because that’s just what we’ve done for seven years. And we don’t wait for them to get to the point where they’re in so much pain but that is the only option.

I want to make it really crystal clear: I believe in the 12 Steps, I believe in abstinence — that’s what worked for me and I would encourage everyone to do that — but I also know that starting there is too daunting of a task. It doesn’t have to be Heritage CARES. Find an organization that you’re comfortable with, whether it’s a nonprofit. Call me, I’ll help you get a place. But start somewhere, whether it’s a philosophy where you can start this journey, and get engaged and work with people that can get you to that better place.

Again, some of us may need inpatient treatment and we will get you there. Some of you may need IOP, whatever it may be. But let’s just start the journey because we do know that if we educate ourselves and we learn and we get hope and advice from others. Some people may course correct on their own. Some people may not. Some people can get better without going to rehab, gut at the end of the day, if you need it, we’re going to connect you to the right place and we’re going to get you as better as we can on our own or with help from others. I would just say, it’s not all or nothing. Put one foot in front of the other, and we can help you get to a better life. 

Dominic Lawson: Hamilton Baiden is the President of Heritage CARES. With almost three decades of experience in the healthcare industry, he brings a vision and passion for creating innovative solutions to complex problems. Find out more at heritagehealthsolutions.com.  


Beyond Theory is produced and hosted by me, Dominic Lawson.  

You can discover more, including videos with some of our conversations, at beyondtheory.com. For more information on Meadows Behavioral Healthcare go to meadowsbh.com. Finally, thank you for listening and I hope you join us next time for another episode of Beyond Theory.