As CEO of Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres, Shane Saltzman has helped to create and run a business he can proud of (Erin Leydon)
About 2,200 people have completed a rehab program at Toronto’s Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres since its inception in 2013, but co-founder and CEO Shane Saltzman never tires of seeing someone emerge from the darkest period of their life with a renewed sense of optimism and fortitude.
“When I look at someone on day 30 versus day one and see that transformation, the tears in their eyes, the excitement about approaching their new life... it’s a pretty powerful moment,” says Saltzman, a CPA who began his career with Deloitte in 1999 and also spent time with Pitney Bowes Canada prior to launching Trafalgar.
A recent entrant on Canadian Business’s Growth List 2020 of Canada’s fastest-growing companies, with five-year revenue growth of 846 per cent, Trafalgar was forced to pivot quickly when the pandemic hit Canada and its outpatient treatment programs were jeopardized.
The company introduced a four-week online treatment program within 48 hours of the pandemic-mandated lockdown in March 2020, complemented by a suite of online tools, including an aftercare program and surveys that allow people to do their own self-monitoring on matters such as quality of life, depression or general anxiety disorders.
“With addiction, it’s all about your own personal motivation and level of engagement, which is why we’re creating these online resources so we can create better engagement,” says Saltzman. “Long-lasting recovery in our mind is about client engagement—what do you need to participate in when you feel the need?”
PIVOT: It’s an interesting career path from beginning your career as a CPA with Deloitte to creating and leading Trafalgar. How did you get here?
Shane Saltzman (SS): From the beginning it wasn’t about being an accountant but having the skill set to be able to drive better business results. I wanted to be part of something meaningful. I was never excited about selling widgets for the sake of selling widgets. It was about passion for an industry you believed in or the business challenges you wanted to tackle. A business partner of mine struggled with recovery over the years, and we saw Canada as being very behind when it came to treatment. It did not have a mental health focus—it was mainly 12-step focused, group-based addiction counselling and very little individual therapy, which meant there was not a mental health aspect to it. There was an opportunity to create something really special that didn’t exist. What we thought would be a side project to help a few people eventually grew.
PIVOT: Do you regard your job as a vocation of sorts?
(SS): I love it because it’s meaningful. For me, it was always about finding meaningful work, not just looking at the numbers. What can we contribute to society? How can we make a difference? If you can make a difference, and provide a living for your employees and yourself and your family, then isn’t that a win-win? That’s the way we look at. I’ve always looked at the greater good and how I can do better at things. For me sometimes it’s, “Great, you sold 20 more boxes this week than you did last week. Who cares?”
PIVOT: You’re a CEO, so results matter, but you’re also the head of a company where there are significant real-life implications for clients. How do you balance the two?
(SS): When you’re working for a typical for-profit company, is it customer first or profit first? Or is it one and the same? We’re dealing with people’s lives—they’re not a number, they’re a person. If we take care of them like family and do our best to support them with integrity and accountability, they feel as though they have a safe space in their recovery. It’s kind of karma: you do good and good things will happen. It’s about that high-level standard of care and a commitment to our employees. If you’re not going to take care of your employees, they’re not going to take care of the clients. The clients know right away the person who’s there to collect a paycheque, versus the person who cares about that individual. If someone’s in crisis at 5 p.m. and it’s shift change, is it “Too bad, so sad,” or is that person really going to be there to help them through it? For us, it’s about hiring caring, compassionate people who truly are dedicated to our cause.
PIVOT: How did your virtual treatment program come about?
(SS): Because of COVID-19, we had to close our physical outpatient program on day one of lockdown, and we put that whole program online in a matter of 48 hours. It grew from a regular monthly admission of five people per month to an average of 20. We’re seeing people from across the country participating in this program because of greater accessibility. People are starting to realize that there’s this new alternative to residential care.
PIVOT: How has the introduction of the virtual treatment component changed your business?
(SS): It’s like we’re a startup. The opportunity to help people is endless right now, and the mission for us is creating greater awareness that not everybody needs to go away for treatment. There are too many people struggling, not knowing where they can get care and thinking they have to go away to get help when they don’t want to. Wherever you are in the country, if you’ve got a computer and good internet, you can get the help you need.
PIVOT: Have you done any tracking to determine its efficacy versus in-person treatment?
(SS): We see it as similar. Our completion rates have been upwards of 95 per cent. Clients are working from home with Netflix and every distraction in the world, so if they don’t want to be doing groups and talking to strangers they won’t do it. Yet we’re seeing people participating. They’re engaged, they’re happy and motivated and eager to participate. What it tells us is that this program is for people who are motivated, who recognize that they have some struggles and want to better themselves. It’s a great flexible alternative to access care. It becomes an earlier intervention model. If you know you’re struggling, and you’re motivated and have a busy professional or family life, you can now get access to care without going away or losing your job or your family or having to face the stigma [of being in treatment].
PIVOT: How would you characterize the past year? There have been lots of articles talking about how the pandemic was going to exacerbate drug and alcohol use.
(SS): I believe the tsunami has yet to happen. I use the analogy that the soldiers are still at war; everyone is hunkering down and fighting the good fight—working from home, watching their kids homeschool. Then the soldiers return from war, the dust settles and people realize, “Whoa, I’ve been through a lot.” People are going to start to recognize that they thought things were going to get better, but did they? That’s not to say it happens to everybody, but this is the thing about mental health: It doesn’t discriminate. There are so many unique life events that are going to happen and I think everybody’s been through so much that people are going to react differently.
PIVOT: Are you prone to looking back at how far you’ve come in these eight years or are you always looking forward?
(SS): I’m a no-regrets kind of person. I think, at the end of the day, we all make decisions, whether it’s business or in life. I think you’ve got to look at it like, “This is what I wanted to do, and this is the result I got.” As long as you do your best and you work toward your goal, you’ll be at peace with your decision. It’s not a life of regrets, it’s a life of opportunity. I couldn’t be prouder of what my team has accomplished over these last eight years and the lives we’ve impacted. It’s truly satisfying and rewarding.
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