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Meet Neal Shifman of Advocates for Human Potential in Sudbury

Today we’d like to introduce you to Neal Shifman.

Neal, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I had run a few nonprofit agencies and was in private practice as a family therapist when I became fascinated with the idea of expanding individual treatment to the community as a whole. I was also consulting with local governments and I had formed the first association of mental health and substance use (now considered “behavioral health”) providers in Massachusetts. I began exploring the concept of effecting change in communities and states, even nationally and internationally by employing aspects of family therapy.

Growing up my father owned a restaurant, so I saw the risks and benefits of running your own business, and I figured I’d take the leap to expand my revenue streams. The convergence of several factors helped me on the way – the general election when Dukakis ran for president, the growth of the state association I started, an increase in my clinical practice, and the expansion of my network of connections. With a modest investment in 1986, I opened shop and had a very successful first year. I hired some social workers to help with the work.

When the Massachusetts economy took a nose dive a few years later, I expanded to other states and generated very successful consulting projects supporting state programs, providers, and the beginnings of managed care. And I started to get into federal grants and contracts focused on vulnerable populations like pregnant and postpartum women with addictions to substances.

The company has evolved over time, from a group of companies, including a nonprofit that was “firewalled” from the rest to one for-profit company of nearly 100 employees focused on creating practical solutions to improve health and human services systems of care and business operations. I’ve focused a good deal of energy on attracting and retaining some of the foremost thought leaders in their areas of expertise across the behavioral health spectrum.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
There have been some financial challenges along the way when things were close and we had to ask staff to make some sacrifices. At one point I took out a second mortgage on my home. But I’ve always been fortunate in the people I’ve hired; not only are they the best in their fields, they are committed to making it through. I’m proud of AHP’s very low attrition rate. People join the company and they stay because they love what they do and have a chance to make a difference.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Advocates for Human Potential – what should we know?
Our mission is to improve health and human services systems of care and business operations to help organizations and individuals reach their full potential. We offer hands-on research and evaluation, training and technical assistance, and professional consulting. The company assists organizations of all sizes – federal, state, local, and community-based agencies, as well as commercial organizations – with achieving our collective goal of helping our most vulnerable populations lead full and productive lives. Every day, we work to develop “real-world solutions for systems change” through our areas of expertise in addictions and substance use, behavioral health policy, criminal justice, health care reform, housing and homelessness, mental health, population health management, recovery supports, veterans and workforce development.

AHP’s strengths are our people, our passion, and our processes. AHP applies best practices, many of which we have helped shape, to improve programs and business practices. We work with our clients at the tough intersection of “but that’s how we’ve always done it” and the cutting edge of change. Many of our staff are nationally known experts — teachers and business leaders, researchers, innovators, and change-makers — who bring their passion and commitment to transforming knowledge and experience into practical strategies and results. We work both at the policy level and the real, nitty-gritty level of practical application.

I’m most proud of the quality of the work we produce and of AHP’s commitment to social and systems change that improves lives. I’ve always said you can do well by doing good, and it’s true. We really care about results for our clients — about making sure they meet their goals and ultimately serve the populations they work with. What sets us apart is that we always come through, no matter what. We do what we say we’ll do, with high quality, respect, and integrity. We strive always to be fair, straight-ahead, and transparent. This is true internally, as well. AHP’s working environment is friendly, focused on social responsibility and supported by good core values.

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