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Communications, Choice of Words, Terminology

A part of our values — which is our commitment to each other, our residents, and the community of people we severe — says that we are “Accessible: to be successful, homes must be accessible to the recovery community.” Companies now more than ever are being held to their claims.


General Communication Guidelines

Incoming phone calls. Try to answer all incoming phone calls as able. When driving conditions are unsafe, let it go to voicemail & call back once parked. When driving conditions are safe and you are able to abide by local hands-free laws, answer and schedule time available for a return call. When dealing with an issue, use auto text message to say you are busy. Text a suggested time you are available.


Text messages. Incoming text when driving: Let it go. No texting and driving. Text back once parked. When dealing with an issue, use auto text message to say you are busy. Text a suggested time you are available.


Incoming Inquiries. See Intake Duties section.


Internal Communication

Methods of Communication. Operators and House Managers are encouraged to communicate how they see fit, using phone, text messages, e-mails or WhatsApp as they are comfortable doing so. However, we encourage the use of company e-mail and WhatsApp as our primary forms of communication. See more information on the use of our communication software below in the Technologies section.

Contact Information. All staff contact information is available to all Operators on Buildium. Your House Manager(s) and all residents in your home(s) are available to only you and Vanderburgh House staff. Search for the name of the person in the search bar. Incomplete information should be updated by all staff when able.


Chain of Command

If a resident has a concern, we ask them to work it out on their own before coming to their House Manager or Operator for a solution. If they have concern with another resident, they must first try to work the concern out with that resident directly. Only after that are they encouraged to speak with someone else. Concerns must first be brought up to the House Manager before bringing them to the Operator. When residents go directly to staff with concerns, it undermines the authority of the House Manager, and is not acceptable. Formal grievances are always accepted by staff.


If you have a live-in on-site House Manager, they are in the best position to handle situations and resolve conflicts. They should work directly with residents. It may be uncomfortable, at times, to make a tough decision, but that is what being a House Manager requires. Residents must understand that House Managers have authority to make decisions and run the house the way the House Manager sees fit.


Communications with residents should go through the House Manager. If you need to contact a resident directly, you may do so. Resident contact information can be found in Buildium. Coaching is a powerful tool which can be used by both staff as well as the House Managers to encourage residents to pursue their recovery with 100% of their mind and body. Leading your House Managers is a core function of Community Management.



The right to confidentiality of all residents regarding verbal and written information will be protected and compliant with federal and state laws. All House Managers, staff, and volunteers of Vanderburgh House will adhere to the confidentiality laws and procedures as set forth in Federal Law, 42 CFR, Part 2 Confidentiality of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Records. Operators are likewise expected to comply with federal law. Residents will be informed upon acceptance of their rights to confidentiality and be given the opportunity to sign consent forms for the release of information. Residents may choose to sign and may revoke a release at any time. Current and past resident files will be kept in a locked filing cabinet(s) in the office.

The contents of the Resident’s file can only be released in the below circumstances:

  • The resident whose name appears on the file requests to view their file.
  • The resident has signed a release form for the specific person who has requested to view the file.
  • A court order is furnished requesting the file, or any part thereof.
  • A situation in which the resident’s life is in danger and the file would aid in the treatment of the resident.



Choice of Words


Background and Importance

The words we use are powerful and must not be taken lightly. Words, though second-nature to us, are unexpectedly powerful and can change the way we are perceived even when we don’t realize it. We ask you to be mindful of how you speak and the words you use to ensure that the correct message is communicated. Work with your teammates to remind and encourage them to be mindful of the way you communicate.


Below is a partial list of some specific words we use regularly and some which may have a special definition which is important for each of us to understand completely.


Recovery Terminology

Sobriety: Abstinence from drugs and alcohol. A lifestyle or state of being where someone does not use substances.


Recovery: The state of being actively engaged in a lifestyle centered in the community of recovery. Distinctly different from sobriety and focuses on the active engagement in one’s personal development. Sobriety is absence of substances; recovery is a state of being where a diligent and courageous process takes place to repair and rebuild the body, mind, and soul.


Sober House, Sober Living Home, Recovery Home, or Recovery Residence: Words for the same or similar homes serving those in recovery. These terms (and other similar terms) often refer to the same type of home. Vanderburgh House homes are sober houses. Some sober homes are more structured than others, but all have some level of structure beyond independent living. Nearly all sober houses are private pay and are not licensed by any state agency. Sober houses are distinctly different from a halfway house, program, facility or other similar organizations.


Certified: Sober houses may be certified by state agencies as applicable. State certification agencies are affiliated with the National Alliance for Recovery Residences, or NARR. For example, the Massachusetts Alliance for Sober Housing is the Massachusetts state-level organizing which certifies sober houses in Massachusetts. Some states do not have certifying organizations. Certification is optional in nearly every state.


Program: Programs are most often licensed and third-party funded organizations which offer treatment and/or housing to those in recovery. As a sober house, we are not a program and should typically not call our homes “programs” except to help a third party understand that we have elements of structure beyond independent living (as one may find in a rooming house or dormitory setting).


Drug Screen: Urine drug screen or other type of screening for use of drugs or alcohol conducted in most sober houses. Drug tests are distinctly different, requiring medical personnel and a laboratory setting. If a drug screen of a sober house resident indicates the use of drugs, they would have had a positive indication on a drug screen. This is not failing a drug test.




Vanderburgh House Terminology

Vanderburgh House: Vanderburgh House is the brand and likeness of the sober homes operated by chartered Vanderburgh House sober house operators. The Vanderburgh House brand practically includes a logo, color scheme, and a set of policies and procedures for Operators, House Managers, and residents. For residents, Vanderburgh House represents an expectation of a certain level of service and expectations, regardless of the Operator of a specific home.


Operator: The independent owner of one or multiple Vanderburgh House homes. An Operator could be one individual, multiple individuals, or most often a legal entity. The Operator’s duties can be broken out into multiple positions, including Intake Specialist, Operations Manager, and/or Outreach Coordinator. All activities conducted relating to the ownership and management of a Vanderburgh House sober house is under the Operator umbrella term.


Charter: An operator of a Vanderburgh House sober house holds a charter for that home through a charter agreement between the Operator and Vanderburgh Communities. A charter allows an operator to operate their sober house as a Vanderburgh House sober house and access to the Vanderburgh House platform and resources offered to all chartered organizations. Vanderburgh Communities is the organization which offers Vanderburgh House charters. Operators pay an initial fee and ongoing fees to maintain their charter. Charters are specific to a particular home, not a particular Operator, though an Operator cannot operate non-chartered homes and chartered homes at the same time.


A New Home Charter is a charter offered to an Operator creating a new Vanderburgh House sober house. A Conversion Charter is a charter offered to an Operator who is converting an existing sober house to a Vanderburgh House chartered sober house. They function exactly the same, except for the initial fee is lower for a conversion charter, and the onboarding process is different.


Initial Charter Fee: The initial up-front fee paid by an Operator to Vanderburgh Communities for a charter.


Charter Maintenance Fee: The ongoing fee paid by an Operator to Vanderburgh Communities, as a percentage of gross revenue, for continued membership in the Vanderburgh House collaborative and for receipt of services provided by Vanderburgh Communities.


Franchise: The charter agreement is structured as a franchise as required by the Federal Trade Commission. Franchises are regulated and Vanderburgh Communities follows all applicable laws pertaining to franchising. Accordingly, Vanderburgh Communities is a franchisor, Operators are franchisees, and the charter agreement is a franchise agreement.


Collaborative: Vanderburgh Communities and chartered operators make up a sober house collaborative. An Operator joins the Vanderburgh House collaborative when they are granted a charter for a sober house. Members of the collective, through their charter agreement, are granted access to resources offered by Vanderburgh Communities and other chartered members of the collaborative.


Chartered Home Terminology

Recovery Community: Our mission is to build recovery communities. A recovery community is a sober house, but the spirit of a recovery community is bigger than simply a sober house. A recovery community is a group of individuals in recovery who are committed to their personal journey as well as helping their brothers and sisters in reaching their goals as well. The recovery community is the spirit in the home.


House Rules: House Rules are the set of rules which guide each Vanderburgh House home. House Rules are contained in the Resident Handbook and are not guidelines or suggestions but actual rules. They are the concrete and non-negotiable portion of our Core Requirements.


Resident: Someone who lives in one of our homes. Residents are not clients, patients, guests, or tenants.


House Manager: The manager of a Vanderburgh House home. House Managers are also residents but serve a leadership role in the home. House Managers may or may not be compensated. Compensation, if offered, is typically a discounted or free room.


Rent: Residents pay rent, not program fees or similar terminology.


Treatment Program Terminology

Intensive Outpatient (IOP): Program participants attend day group sessions often lasting 4-8 hours per day while living somewhere else. This type of treatment helps those who struggle with mental health disorders and/or substance use disorders. IOP offers day or evening treatment where group and individual counseling occur.

Acute Treatment Services / Inpatient Detoxification (Detox): This type of treatment is a 24-hour inpatient, where the patient is monitored by medical professionals who ensure that the patient safely and completely detoxes from substances while managing withdrawal symptoms. ATS offers professional clinical support to help ensure that patients have an aftercare plan set up prior to being terminated.

Clinical Stabilization Services (CSS): CSS’s offer clinical support for those who choose to go to inpatient aftercare post ATS. CSS’s offer 24-hour clinical support in a non-medical setting. CSS’s consist of 10-30 days of treatment, including supervision, observation, education, counseling, goal setting and aftercare planning. This sets an individual up with the beginning steps of recovery.

Transitional Support Services (TSS): These have 24 -hour supervision from nonmedical staff which lasts 30-90 days. Patients in these programs often are working and participate in counseling and peer support during the evening and weekend hours, while working on an aftercare plan to help sustain recovery from substance use disorder.

Halfway Houses / Programs: Halfway houses can be a steppingstone in a person’s recovery where they can live from six to twelve months while establishing a solid plan of recovery. During this stay an individual is coached to be behaviorally stable, with the assistance of clinical support. Those who complete a halfway home or recovery program are set up with an aftercare plan to ensure stabilization of their recovery process.



Positive Recovery Language

The way we speak to and about our residents can have a tremendous impact on the way our community sees them and most importantly – the way they see themselves. Certain words, phrases, or names can have a serious impact on the recovery movement, and we encourage you to think about what you are saying, and how it could be taken. Some examples are below:


Instead of saying: Try to say:
“Dirty urine screen” “Tested positive on a urine screen”
“They are high” “That person may be under the influence”
“Addict” or “Alcoholic” “A person with a substance use disorder”
“Kicked out” or “Discharged” “Terminated”
“The person is clean” “A person in recovery”
“The clinic” “Medication Assisted Recovery”


Next The Role of the Vanderburgh House Collaborative
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