How Communists and Catholics Built a Commonwealth


Nathan Schneider in America:

Boulder, Colo., is a town full of characters, and Richard Warner was one of them. Dr. Warner—a psychiatrist, anthropologist and transplanted Englishman, with ruddy cheeks and wavy hair—held a particularly zealous conviction that any patient with mental illness could recover and, further, that the best medicine is living as normal a life as possible. He could not tolerate any clinical ambition he perceived to be short of that. He wanted to care for people in a way that did not seem to add up, business-wise—at least until he borrowed an idea from Italy.

Dr. Warner died in 2015. His chief legacy is a company, Colorado Recovery, that provides services in the Boulder community to adults with serious mental illness. It is housed mainly in an office on a residential street, its Ionic columns and white fences tucked behind a pair of trees along the sidewalk. Some of the 150-or-so clients it serves in a given year live in a group home a short walk away. Other companies have wanted to buy Colorado Recovery over the years; some still call and make offers. But by the time of his death, Dr. Warner transferred ownership and control of Colorado Recovery to its employees, along with some families of its clients, who hold non-voting investor shares. The clients have a budget to design their own services. Dr. Warner knew that no buyer—whether an aggressive holding company or a well-intentioned nonprofit—would run it the way he had, so he turned it into a cooperative.

“It’s a very unusual for-profit model,” says Ruth Arnold, Colorado Recovery’s chief executive officer. “It’s not really profit-driven. We’re charging as much as we need to survive.”

Dr. Warner’s widow, Lucy Warner, summarizes the model this way: “It’s sort of where radical and duh come together.”

Colorado Recovery’s structure is an anomaly in the U.S. health care industry, but it was an outgrowth of something larger and older.

More here.