Settled Suit Paves Way for Pittsfield Methadone Clinic

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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The lawsuit between a nonprofit therapeutic agency and the city over the location of a methadone clinic has come to end, with the city having to pony up $100,000 and the agency clear to pursue its original downtown location.

According to a statement from Mayor Daniel Bianchi's office, the federal court case was settled on Monday. The settlement forces the city to pay Spectrum Health Systems $100,000 for illegally trying to block a building permit in 2011, when the company was considering locating a methadone clinic on Summer Street.

The settlement also allows Spectrum to open the clinic on Summer Street but asks it to consider moving it to facilities offered by Berkshire Health Systems when space becomes available.

"I’d like to thank David Phelps, president and CEO of BHS, for helping Pittsfield find a solution to a community issue," Bianchi said in the statement. "We are fortunate to have civic leaders who step forward when the city is faced with a difficult situation."

Under Mayor James Ruberto, the city tried to stop the clinic from opening too close to North Street, which led to the federal case. Shortly afterward, residents protested a second proposed location on Stoddard Avenue.

The lawsuit included a confidentiality agreement keeping city officials from discussing the final location, which angered residents and city officials who were kept out of the loop.

A recent informational meeting promoting the need for a clinic turned into residents demanding to know where the company is looking next and harshly criticized the administration for keeping its lips sealed. Bianchi's statement noted that the agreement had "placed him in a very awkward spot."

"I will never agree to a confidentiality agreement that prevents me from speaking frankly with the people of this city," Bianchi said. "What I learned shortly after taking office was that a settlement agreement was already in progress that was initiated by the previous mayor; that Spectrum was considering several local options for a facility, and that the entire process was taking place under a confidentiality agreement that I did not sign, but also inherited. In short, there was little I could do to manage any aspect of this case."

Bianchi's statement continues to read "nonetheless, there were some people who wanted me to use whatever power the office of the mayor has to keep Spectrum from opening in Pittsfield. I don’t have that power – no mayor has that power - and we learned this the hard way with a federal lawsuit. If a business is appropriately licensed and meets all local zoning requirements, no mayor can prevent them from opening."

The terms of the settlement will not be met until the company receives a certificate of occupancy, probably by late  October; renovations of the Summer Street location are under way and Spectrum began posting jobs last week.

Yet, the city still does holds out hope Spectrum will find a more suitable location with BHS.

"Now that the city has moved from the litigation process, I am hopeful and confident that all involved will continue to work together to locate the facility in an appropriate location," said City Council President Kevin Sherman in the statement.

Officials do agree that there is a need for the clinic, citing  state statistics that the city has one of the highest per capita rates of opioid abuse in the state.

"Pittsfield has a serious problem and it’s up to city leaders to find ways to solve it," Bianchi said. "Many opioid addicts engage in illegal activity every day – whether it is diverting prescription medication or buying heroin. But the moment they are in a treatment program, they leave behind the life of a criminal. This type of treatment will help people with their addiction and it will help reduce illegal drug activity in Pittsfield."

There are already three Suboxone clinics, which serve the same purpose, operating in the city.

Update, 7:57 p.m.: Minor rewrites throughout.

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Tags: lawsuit,   methadone clinic,   Spectrum Health,   

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By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff

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