ELKTON — The Cecil County Council tentatively offered its support for a future 24/7, walk-in substance abuse crisis center backed by a county drug recovery nonprofit on Tuesday, but not without raising a few concerns.
Jennifer Tuerke, chief operations officer for Voices of Hope of Cecil County, detailed their plan to open a treatment center out of the former Green Acres Motel in North East by November, with temporary operations run out of Haven House in Elkton. She said Tuesday that her vision is to start a treatment plan for those who want it, day or night.
“Recovery is lifelong, but treatment doesn’t have to be,” Tuerke said during Tuesday’s morning work session. “This is a person-centered approach, because one size does not fit all.”
The Cecil County Recovery Works center would be managed by Voices of Hope, a recovery advocacy nonprofit based in Elkton. The facility would include peer support programs; a walk-in crisis center complete with a nurse practitioner and a social worker; as well as medication-assisted treatment, which would dispense maintenance drugs like methadone. The key would be working with various service providers as well as stakeholders — including families — to create a roadmap out of addiction.
CCRW’s treatment capacity is expected to be up to 300 patients, Tuerke said.
One of the roadblocks to recovery identified by those working to address the problem is the limited intervention options for those ready to make the step. The Cecil County Health Department is open during business hours Monday to Friday, but closed on weekends, leading some to head to Union Hospital, to seek help from individuals in the recovery community or to abandon their decision to attempt sobriety. Tuerke emphasized that the CCRW would be available to anyone ready to enter recovery at any hour.
The council was relatively quiet during the presentation on Voices of Hope’s plan, although many posed questions on operations and funding. Most supported Tuerke’s vision, however, despite some “not in my back yard” cries from constituents.
“If it comes to fruition, it’s a positive place that’s very much needed for the community,” Councilman George Patchell told the Whig. “We need the help, because we have lots of people flooding our emergency rooms. We need to have different services so we can use the ER for true emergencies.”
Cecil County is among the jurisdictions hardest hit by the opioid epidemic, with overdose numbers climbing in the past two years. There has been a slight downturn in fatal overdoses due, in part, to the growing availability of naloxone, a medication that can reverse the life-threatening effects of an opiate overdose. The county is attempting new strategies to address the opioid epidemic, such as a clean needle exchange program that launched in April.
With more than $1 million in Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant funding secured for the project, there is no county funding — and limited county say — in the future CCRW, which received variances from the Cecil County Board of Appeals in March for buffers to a nearby church and daycare. But those SAMHSA dollars are earmarked for staffing needs, not building renovations, Tuerke explained.
Some federal oversight comes with the federal grant, as the CCRW would be required to measure its clientele base and referrals for the state and SAMHSA.
Councilman Bill Coutz urged Tuerke to consider opening up that data to the community to create “positive reinforcement” of the program’s impact on the community and to rally support.
“The biggest thing is to make sure people understand what this program is about and how it can help,” he said. “Communication can go a long way in helping to overcome some of the challenges that are in front of you. If people know, then they’ll want to help. That’s in the nature of Cecil County residents.”
Councilman Al Miller applauded Voices of Hope for crafting a family-focused strategy, but questioned how effective it would be with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) preventing first responders for sharing critical information after an overdose.
Miller later told the Whig that his serious concern was how to get the families involved early on, as he lost a son-in-law to a fatal overdose. To that end, he said he’s committed to finding a way out of the “big picture issue” of the county’s opioid problem.
“I understand what [the people’s] concerns are, but you have to move forward and meet the issue,” he told the Whig. “This didn’t start overnight, and it won’t end overnight. But we have to be there, willing to do something, start to finish.”
Council President Bob Meffley scrutinized the CCRW’s planned operations, asking about how it would monitor patients from changing services and its policy toward the homeless population.
The CCRW would serve any adult who comes in for substance abuse treatment and support, but it would not be a homeless service provider, according to Tuerke.
“I don’t think if you accept grant money, you can’t say who you’re catering to,” Meffley told the Whig later. “I also want to make sure we’re not duplicating services with the county, and I’d like to see if we can merge some services. I don’t like throwing money in too many directions.”
Council Vice President Jackie Gregory later applauded Voices of Hope’s vision, noting that people who need the CCRW can’t reach already-established treatment options at the critical moment after an overdose.
“We have to have the resources to meet the needs at that moment,” she told the Whig. “It’s already a community issue. It’s a health issue, a crime issue, an economic and health issue. This is in our community, and we need to do anything we can to get on the other side of this.”
Coutz added that a treatment center would be a more welcome addition compared to the Green Acres Motel, a past location of criminal activity. He said he understood the “not in my backyard” mentality this proposal has brought from the public, but the writing was on the wall.
“This problem [the opioid epidemic] is already in the backyard and the front yard,” he said later. “I would urge people to educate themselves about what this truly is about rather than relying on social media, and then make a decision on what the deeper impact would be.”