District Files Appeal: Clinic’s Proximity to Schools a Concern

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Thursday September 13, 2012

The South Burlington School District has filed an appeal regarding the city’s administrative officer’s decision to issue a permit for fit up of a medical office at 364 Dorset Street.

The permit was granted to Howard  Center on August 24th for their proposed methadone clinic.

The School District’s appeal was filed before the September 8th deadline. A hearing before the Development Review Board will take place at City Hall, October 16th at 7 p.m. 

On September 5th, during the first School Board meeting after the permit had been granted, representatives from the Howard Center, Executive Director Todd Centybear, Director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Bob Bick, and family physician Dr. John Brooklyn—who has over 20 years of experience in addiction services (Dr. Brooklyn also oversees the clinics in Newport, St. Johnsbury, Berlin, and Burlington)—were present to answer questions, concerns, and provide clarity on their desire for the approved location.

Assistant Superintendent Winton Goodrich began the discussion by reading anecdotes from school administrators. The thoughts and comments mainly expressed concern over the proximity of the clinic to the school as well as issues of traffic and CCTA bus routes. Dr. Brooklyn then provided the Board with some background on methadone treatment clinics. Brooklyn cited that Vermont has one of the highest rates of opiate addiction in the country. Ninety percent of patients began with a pain issue and became addicted over time. Ninety-two percent of individuals receiving treatment are working, in school, and taking care of families. He added that crimes in the community drastically decrease when people are being treated.

The issue of security measures was broached by the Board. Brooklyn said that they hold patients to a very high standard and have high security measures in place. Patients arrive at 6 a.m., get their medication, see their counselor, and leave. Currently, there are security cameras at the University Health Center (UHC) which are reviewed on a daily basis and any issues they see are addressed the same day and dealt with very thoroughly. “Our goal is to turn people into solid citizens in the community,” explained Brooklyn. There are also two security people on site at the clinics who can review tapes at any time. They also have discharge procedures in place for any type of bad behavior.

Bob Bick referenced the sign to the entrance of Central School, “Everybody is Somebody.” “There is this idea of an amorphous other,” he said, “I wonder if we would be having the same tenor of conversation if it was your spouse or child who was being treated.” Board Chair Richard Cassidy reiterated that his concern is more about proximity than the services being rendered.

Bick said, “We’re fully committed to that location.” The question is how do we make it work given the concerns? Richard Cassidy asked, “Is there a better alternative?” Dr. Brooklyn explained, “There are three main reasons why we chose that location. It’s located in a medical building, accessibility to the bus line, and it’s a 10,000 sq. ft medical building. We have looked extensively in Chittenden County. This decision wasn’t for a lack of looking. Currently, there are 405 people in treatment and another 580 who are on a waitlist for treatment. The state has asked waitlists be eliminated, so there is an urgency to move this along as soon as possible.”

Board member Elizabeth Fitzgerald said she would still like to review current practices to ensure the safety of students and she requested more specific information about security incidents that may have occurred at other locations. She also expressed a concern over the impact on foot and car traffic. She then made a motion that directs the superintendent to retain counsel and seek information to see if an appeal is merited. Board member Julie Beatty seconded and the decision was unanimous.

Bick said, “It’s the individuals who are not being treated that we need to be worried about, not the people who are seeking treatment. The recent violence that has occurred in communities is from people who are not getting treatment.”

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent