Williamstown ZBA Continues Vote on Chemical Dependency Center

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Zoning Board of Appeals has more questions before it OKs the conversion of a former nursing home to a behavioral health-care facility.

The panel on Thursday continued a special permit to operate an inpatient behavioral health-care facility at 1561 Cold Spring Road (Route 7), at the site of the former Sweet Brook Care Centers. It will gather questions for the applicant by next week and resume the conversation on July 21.

"Our hope is to provide services to a massively underserved population that obviously needs these types of treatment services," said the applicant's representative Megan Weaver of Complete Compliance Consulting.

Owner Williamstown Recovery Realty LLC intends to use the building as an inpatient chemical dependency/co-occurring disorder treatment facility with Williamstown Recovery LLC as the operator.  The facility aims to provide medical supervision, assessment, and clinical services for adult men and women.

It will fall under the same use as the previous nursing home and will not require any change to the current utilities.

The property falls under RR3 for institutional use and its use as an inpatient behavioral health-care facility required a special permit from the ZBA. Only superficial interior improvements are proposed to transform it to the new use.

Weaver explained that based on need, the treatment facility expects to have an average of 35 patients in year 1, 94 in year 2, 110 in year 3, 138 in year 4, and 147 in its fifth year. At no point do the owners want to operate over 80 percent capacity and plan to have a minimum 1 to 12 client-to-staff ratio.

The former nursing home had around 180 beds across 89 units.

Weaver later highlighted that the facility would be voluntary and would not accept people who are a risk to others.

The aim is to provide treatment to those who are insurance dependent and would otherwise not be able to access the care  The minimum stay is 30 days.

"The cost for a 30-day inpatient treatment stay varies greatly, but the average cost is around $20,000. According to 2019 data, 97 percent of the population in Massachusetts has some form of insurance," the project narrative reads.

"With the average insurance plan deductible ranging from $4K for an individual plan and $8K for a family plan, a patient who chooses our facility would have a much more affordable option for treatment whether they're covered by a state-funded Medicaid plan or an employer/self-funded plan through a commercial carrier like Blue Cross Blue Shield. This would allow us to serve not just the Williamstown community, but Massachusetts as a whole."

The continuance was prefaced by more than two hours of hearing concerns from community members and questions from the board.

The abutting independent living facility Sweetwood of Williamstown sent correspondence through an attorney to object to the special permit. Representatives of the retirement community argued that the applicant has not provided sufficient documentation and that the proposal is not in harmony with the purpose and intent of the bylaw, causing disturbances to abutters.

A speaker representing a group of Sweetwood residents said they believe the idea of a drug rehab facility is a worthy goal but that this is not the location because there are too many unknowns. The residents had security concerns for themselves, concerns about lighting and students at Mount Greylock Regional School down the road, and fears of soiling the facility's name.


"They feel that it's going to degrade the name of Sweetwood because of that facility being placed there," the woman said.

Resident Paul Haklisch was concerned that he was not able to find any examples of the entity's experience with a behavioral health facility.

"Based on all the research I did, I could find no example where they have operated these facilities," he said.

"I was shocked, that's not the business that this company is in. This is a small Long Island company that is in the real estate business and in the business of rehabbing troubled and closed nursing homes."

Haklisch asked that the board "hit the pause button" on the proposal.

Weaver responded to concerns by assuring that disturbances will be mitigated through largely indoor programming, scheduled admissions and discharges, and having voluntary admissions that exclude those who pose a risk to others or have a violent background.

The facility will also have 24-hour staff.

"The intent is to hire fully credentialed staff, we're talking to medical doctors and licensed nurses and Master's level clinicians, and they've hired myself and my team, all who have worked in this industry running facilities from anywhere from 15 to 30 years respectively, across the group of people that I work with," she said.

"And so, our intention here is they have reached out to us people who are experts in running, licensing, accrediting and operating these facilities to make sure that the proper staff and everything is put in place so that we will not have these types of issues. So I don't believe that they should be faulted for not having actually worked in one of these facilities. They're on the business side of it and their intention is to provide much-needed services in the area and make sure that these facilities have adequate staff and support they need to support the people they serve."

When the facility's security became a recurring question, Weaver and Wendy Penner, a Williamstown resident who has long worked in drug prevention and recovery and is currently Drug Addiction and Recovery Team coordinator for the city of Northampton, came to the defense of individuals seeking treatment for addiction.

"I just want to say that this ongoing conversation about there are special security concerns, because people who use drugs are receiving treatment there is very stigmatized," Penner said. "And that is one of the biggest barriers to recovery and the shame that people feel because they're seen as immoral criminals."

She pointed out that North Adams had a syringe access program and shared that there are often concerns of increased crime around such services but in many cases, there is a reduction in crime.

"I just encourage everyone who's concerned about this, to try to relax a little bit about it and to come from a place of compassion and facts and not come from a place of fear," Penner added.  

"I think these are good questions to raise and I think we should look at what the research shows and I think people will feel very reassured by the results."
 


Tags: addiction recovery,   

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City of Pittsfield Enacts Water Usage Restrictions

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