Dr. Thomas Hyde said the heroin working group did not have enough data to say whether beds or something else was needed to address the addiction crisis, prompting Michael Chalifoux to call him a backstabber and a snake.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday approved 8-1 a citizens' petition calling on Berkshire Health Systems to open a center for detoxification and substance abuse recovery.
The vote came after more than an hour of discussion and debate and numerous comments from the public, including assertions that the council was dithering over what the community wanted.
"This resolution ... goes right to the point, don't send it back to committee," said Thomas Partenope. "Act. That's what you're here for and do it tonight, please."
The resolution was submitted on behalf of the North County Cares Coalition by Council President Benjamin Lamb back in early May. The Public Safety Committee heard from a range of residents and service providers during a two-hour meeting earlier this month without making a recommendation on the resolution.
Like much of the nation, the city has seen a dramatic increase in opioid abuse. The rate of those seeking treatment in North Adams has jumped from about 42 in 2005 to nearly 200 in 2014. The coalition says the need for opioid treatment in North County is critical.
The coalition has been advocating for the reopening of the former North Adams Regional Hospital as a "full-service" medical facility. The hospital was closed two years ago because of bankruptcy and is assets were purchased by the health system's Berkshire Medical Center.
Since then, BMC has restored a range of services; what's not available is in-patient services other than two "observation beds" in the emergency department.
"We also need Berkshire Health Systems to step up and address the drug problem in North Adams while also serving Pittsfield and Great Barrington," said Joanne Bates. "Let's start by treating patients who need to be hospitalized because of their drug problem."
"We desperately need this," said Michael Chalifoux. "We are fighting a war on drugs with no hospital."
The council was split over what the resolution should contain, debating over adding recognition of BHS' efforts in North County, or whether the resolution addressed fully the holistic needs of acute care, recovery and support.
James Lipa, of the NCCC, said the group did not have an issue adding recognition of BHS to the resolution.
Mayor Richard Alcombright, who could not attend the meeting, addressed his concerns "about the demanding tone" of the resolution in a letter read into the record by Council President Benjamin Lamb.
"I do not think that the resolution before you truly identifies or articulates what is needed in our community," wrote the mayor, who has been working on the opiod issue with the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition's Rx/Heroin Abuse Workgroup, as well as through the Massachusetts Municipal Association.
"Should you think it is necessary that BHS/BMC hear the Council as the 'voice of the community,' I think it should be done working with and through the discussions of the Workgroup."
Councilor Nancy Bullett concurred, as did Dr. Thomas Hyde, also a member of the work group, who said the group was still trying to get data to see if beds in North County were needed.
"We don't have the facts to show that's the right thing to do," he said. "I think demanding of them now in a way that makes it look like they're not doing the right thing is not the right thing to do."
Bullett said she would support referring the resolution back to Public Safety Committee, as suggested by Councilor Kate Merrigan, who was absent because of illness but who also submitted a letter of support.
"I support the resolution, however, I believe it does need to be more comprehensive," she said. "If we look at it for short term, the success for this is not supported ... we have to work together but we have to do it right."
Councilor Lisa Blackmer said she would support referring it back to committee, and added that the councilors and other officials have been discussing this problem at the state level for some time. "They know what we want and what we think," she said.
Councilor Robert M. Moulton Jr. thought the resolution should be amended to at least recognize BHS, and did not have an issue with it going back to his committee. "I think a little bit of sugar is appreciative," he said. Councilor Joshua Moran agreed, noting that without BMC, there would be "nothing on the hill."
Councilors Keith Bona, Eric Buddington and Ronald Boucher, however, disagreed, saying it could be approved as it was presented.
"I'm not really finding it insulting to BHS ... I find it to the point," said Bona.
Buddington didn't think the resolution "sounds confrontational" but said he would support language recognizing BMC's efforts. Boucher was ready to vote: "I would like to support this and vote it forward tonight."
Resident Trevor Gilman urged them to vote on the resolution, saying "they're big boys at BHS."
"When did this city lose its balls?" he asked. "We believe in this. This is what we want, and there's nothing wrong with this."
In the end, two minor amendments were made. Blackmer motioned that the term "asserted," used in connection with recommendations by the Stroudwater report (on North County's health care needs), be replaced with the actual language of "showed an existing need" for a dozen in-patient beds for substance abuse and behavioral health and the report's page number. Bona added in the governor and the Berkshire's congressman to the list of officials.
Bullett was the only vote in the negative, saying she could not support a resolution that focused on what she felt were short-term goals that did not fully address the needs for addiction recovery.
In other business, the council swiftly approved Kyle Hanlon to another term on the Redevelopment Authority to end in 2019 and a taxi license for Samuel Day to drive for RJ Taxi.
The classification and compensation plan for fiscal 2017 was passed to a second reading published, as was an ordinance amending rate changes at the transfer station.
Lamb called a five-minute recess and for a police officer at the beginning of the meeting when gadfly Robert Cardimino refused to stop talking when his two minutes were up. Cardimino was complaining about city services and that several city councilors were covered by municipal insurance, as allowed by law. He left on his own shortly after the officer arrived.
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