Thursday September 12, 2013
Over the past year, a number of public hearings have been held regarding the HowardCenter’s permit to open a methadone clinic at 364 Dorset Street. The South Burlington School Board appealed to Vermont’s Environmental Court in hopes of preventing the clinic from opening in such close proximity to the District’s schools and while their appeal remains active, the court found it permissible to allow the HowardCenter to continue with their interior renovations and open if no decision had been rendered on the case by the time those improvements had been completed.
Friday, September 6, the clinic opened. Bob Bick, director of mental health and substance abuse services at the HowardCenter said that there will not be an initial flood of clients as they begin transitioning into the space. Some lab equipment has been moved in and a physician and some support staff are on site. Bick explained that until HowardCenter has fully occupied the space, the final numbers of patients being served, and therefore the number of staff they need to do so, will be difficult to predict. The numbers will vary depending on when patients need to and can be seen. “It’s like any other medical practice,” Bick said, “some patients come in once per day and others once per week or month.” So far, the clinic hours are running Monday through Friday 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. with a couple of nights going slightly later to provide support services. Eventually, they hope to have limited weekend hours as well.
The HowardCenter has invested a significant amount of time and energy into both the appeal process and interior renovations to the space. When asked about the potential economic impact this could have, if the Environmental Court rules in favor of the school board’s appeal, Bick said, “The Board of the HowardCenter has been very courageous in that regard. There are people who are asking for help, treatment, and support and we haven’t been able to serve them. I remain optimistic that our legal position is very strong…our communities and clients will be better served by having had us move forward.”
Bick also mentioned the recent screening (You can view the presentation on CCTV) of the documentary “The Opiate Effect,” a short film about the overdose death of University of Vermont student Will Gates as impetus for the opening of the clinic. The film was directed by Derek Hallquist and features testimonies from Gates’ father, brother and local experts. As part of the United Way kickoff, Main Street Landing in Burlington screened the film which was followed by a panel discussion. During the conversation, opiate addiction was sited as the number one health issue facing communities. Part of the three point agenda that was recommended by the panel for addressing this issue involved access to treatment and offering support to people asking for it.
In reaction to news of the opening, Superintendent David Young and School Board Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald provided a joint statement. “Despite ongoing serious community concerns regarding safety and an outstanding appeal with Environmental Court, the HowardCenter has decided to open its methadone clinic at 364 Dorset Street. The school district is deeply disappointed by the HowardCenter’s decision to locate the clinic in such close proximity to our schools. At a minimum, we would expect that the HowardCenter would wait until our legal challenge to their permit has been decided by the courts.
In the interim, we have put several additional safety and security measures in place which may help address the safety of our students, both on school property and during transit to and from school, and other co-curricular activities.”
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent