The Story of GET HELP

by Tony Greco, PsyD, GET HELP CEO / Founder


GET HELP began as a vision in the desert – literally. Putting a willing client together with the help they urgently need should be simple. But with all the resources at my disposal as a mental health professional, I still couldn’t find a drug treatment program that would accommodate the needs and insurance of a challenging client.

The reality is that for addicts in need, finding appropriate, effective, affordable treatment has been anything but easy. Clients and their desperate families have been left open to a variety of unethical practices in the marketplace as they struggle to find treatment. Facing addiction is hard enough. It shouldn’t be so hard to Get Help®. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

A Friend In Need

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… (and also two years ago in the Valley) I got one of those calls that changes the day, and then changes everything. A dear friend had relapsed with 28 years clean, had a psychotic break, and was wandering through the desert near Las Vegas. I knew if I could just get her back to LA, we would be able to find a place for her to get the treatment she desperately needed. Without hesitation I headed to Nevada, and it felt like I got there just in time. I did an impromptu intervention, and we started on the long road home.

It was 105 degrees on the world’s largest thermometer in Baker, CA. There was no A/C in her rickety car, and we had the windows rolled down so I could barely hear when the first of our friends who had run a major treatment center said, “you can’t come here. I don’t know where you can go but absolutely not here.” Our old friend had been transformed before my eyes into a high-need, high-risk, low-resource client, and even the treatment professionals who knew her as a friend were unwilling to take her as a patient. I looked at the phone in disbelief – and then I started dialing. I called my professional contacts; I cold-called treatment centers. Thinking that there were online resources that would make this easy was a mistake. No one had room for such a complex patient without private insurance.

I’m a professional in this field. I have a doctorate in psychology, 20 years in recovery, and lots of friends who work in treatment. If I had this much difficulty getting someone help, what are laypeople going through?

In desperation, I took her to a public hospital to be placed on a suicide hold while I tried to figure out her next steps. I left the hospital at 3:00 am, exhausted and overwhelmed.  And then it hit me:I’m a professional in this field. I have a doctorate in psychology, 20 years in recovery, and lots of friends who work in treatment. If I had this much difficulty getting someone help, what are laypeople going through?We know that time is of the essence when we’re making an intervention. When there’s a waiting period or delay, addicts die  – but waiting lists can extend to more than one hundred days for an addict on Medicaid, and when we add in co-occurring disorders it can get even worse.

It’s a small miracle that clients ever find their way to treatment.

There ought to be an app for this.

But there was no app; there have been very few ways for carers or clinicians outside institutions to match clients to beds. I set out on a path to create a tool that would help anyone, anywhere, find treatment fast. I had no idea what I was up against.

The reality is that there aren’t nearly enough beds for the people who want and need treatment. We are in a state of emergency, and the care just isn’t there to deal with it. It’s a catastrophe, and we intend to address that. But in the meantime – getting an addict into treatment isn’t actually impossible, even if it sometimes feels that way.

There are helplines and websites that appear to offer unbiased guidance in seeking treatment, but are in fact marketing grindhouses or client brokerages. We’ll talk more about this in a later blog (link). We might even be able to live with that, but once you add in a few variables – a client with special needs, co occurring disorders, no insurance or the wrong kind – well, that ends the conversation.

We need a new paradigm. But until we change the system we need to optimize our ability to work with it – or around it. Breaking through the barriers to appropriate treatment requires grit, patience – and the right tools.

They say desperation is the mother of invention. That day, when I thought, “we need an app for this,” I imagined that we would simply be accessing networks and information that was already out there. What I learned was that we need a whole new way of talking to each other – among and between clients, professionals, and treatment centers we needed a simple way to ask and answer the questions that determine eligibility and outcome, and we need to be able to do that quickly and cleanly – so that by the time actual conversation is happening, we can get to the heart of the matter and make sure the client is getting the help he or she needs, and the facility is getting a patient they can effectively work with.

Changing the Game

We don’t ever want another addict to go through what our friend suffered on that awful ride home. But we know they will. We know addicts right now are on that journey, and they may or may not get help in time. We committed that day to disrupt a system that leaves beds empty and addicts suffering.  We had no idea how challenging that would be, or how much reaching out to a friend would make us want to up-end the whole system.

Back when I was making those calls from Baker, CA, I thought my connections would be all that we needed. When that approach failed, I wanted to take it personally, but it’s just business. I don’t know about you, but I’m not alright losing a client – or a friend – to “just business.” I’m not taking it personally, but I am taking it professionally. I’m devoting my career to making tools that change the interaction between clients, providers, and facilities. We can do better, and we can be more humane in the process. The problem isn’t bad providers; it’s bad communication, bad information sharing, bad resource allocation. We can do better. That’s not personal. It’s just business.

What is emerging from this commitment is not just another helpline or website but an ecosystem in which treatment providers, rehabs, detoxes, independent clinicians, addicts and their families can all Get Help with the challenges of matching clients and services. We put patients together with appropriate care, help treatment centers fill the beds they have available, match families to the therapeutic interventions and funding resources they need.

After two years and a lot of learning, we have finally brought that desert vision into reality… that anyone can Get Help®  when they need it and want it. Welcome to  Download the GET HELP App available on the iTunes Store and Google Play, and join me on this adventure to turn the current system upside down. Together we are creating the Get Help® ecosystem – where everyone is the beneficiary.