Proposed methadone clinic sparks concern in Amherst

AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB)- Residents in Amherst want Catholic Health to find a different location for a proposed methadone clinic.

“I’m not against it. It’s got to be moved in the right location,” said John Raezikowski, who lives on North Ivyhurst Road.

Raezikowski lives about 100 feet from the proposed clinic, which would go on Millersport Highway near Sheridan Drive.

Like some of his neighbors, he told us a hospital setting would be more appropriate. He thinks the current proposed location is too close to his neighborhood.

He told News 4 if it goes up, he’s taking off.

“I’m too old for this, I don’t need this. The house is going up for sale,” he said.

Like many of his neighbors, Raezikowski is worried about his property value and public safety.

During our interview, another resident came over and said she too thinks the clinic belongs somewhere else.

“My granddaughter comes over. Now I will not send her to Walgreen’s if she wants to go by herself once that’s there,” she said.

JoAnn Cavanaugh, Director Public Relations for Catholic Health, told News 4 the Millersport location is really an expansion of a current counseling center on Sheridan Drive.

The current center does not offer medicine dispensing services, this new location would. That means recovering addicts would have access to drugs like Methadone, Suboxone, and Vivitrol.

The project was presented to the Planning Department in Amherst last fall.

Barbara Abel is the treasurer for the Eggertsville Community Organization, one of the neighborhood groups fighting the clinic.

“We did talk to the Town Board. They were misled. They thought this was going to be just a healthcare facility. We had no news, no information about methadone,” Abel said.

Town Board meeting minutes and Amherst leaders told News 4 the same thing.

One town official told News 4 they didn’t feel Catholic Health was transparent.

Cavanaugh said Catholic Health was clear with Amherst officials about the clinic’s services, and that they understood the clinic’s purpose.

In a statement to News 4, Cavanaugh said:

“Unfortunately, there is a misconception about patients in treatment. We are developing this site for people who live in Amherst. They are not dangerous, drug seeking vandals. They are people in recovery, who are grateful for treatment. They could be your friends, neighbors or coworkers. They are not going to risk losing these valuable services by jeopardizing the safety of the neighborhood.”

She also noted that all of Catholic Health’s hospitals are in also residential settings.

If the project is approved, there will be security guards at the clinic. However, Cavanaugh said Catholic Health hasn’t had issues with it’s previous clinic locations.

Below is a full statement from Catholic Health:

Sisters of Charity Hospital has filed a Certificate of Need (CON) with the New York State Department of Health to relocate its STAR Amherst outpatient chemical dependency treatment program three-tenths of a mile from its current location at 3730 Sheridan Drive to 910 Millersport Highway. The new center, which will be named Sisters Amherst Health Center, will continue to serve residents from the surrounding Amherst community. Catholic Health plans on holding meetings with area neighbors in the coming weeks. We are confident that once we are able to meet with them and have an open, honest dialogue, they will have a better understanding of the services we will be providing and the patients we will be serving.

Below are some questions and answers about this project.

  1. What services does the current clinic on Sheridan Drive provide?

The current center provides confidential counseling services for drug and alcohol addiction.

  1. What services will the planned clinic on Millersport Highway provide?

The new Sisters Amherst Health Center will offer a more holistic approach to chemical dependency and addiction treatment. Our goal is to treat the patient and not just the addiction. It will offer comprehensive chemical dependency treatment services for addictions to drugs, alcohol and prescription medications, along with primary care. In addition to these services, the new center will also offer medication-assisted treatment, which may include methadone, vivitrol or subxone depending on the patient. 

  1. Why is there a need for a move from one location to another?

The new center will allow us to expand services and serve more patients from the surrounding community – from about 30 per day at our current location to about 50 per day at the new site. Currently, about 75 Amherst residents receive methadone treatment at our Pathways center in Buffalo. The majority of these patients receive counseling at our Sheridan Drive center and have to travel to Buffalo for medication treatment. The new center will allow them the opportunity to receive counseling and medication, which go hand-in-hand, in one convenient location that is closer to home.

  1. Some nearby residents are concerned about a treatment center of this type in their neighborhood. What can you tell them to help alleviate their concern?

The new center will have on-site security, however, we have not had security issues at any of our other chemical dependency treatment locations. To the average passerby, it will look like a typical doctor’s office. The site includes a large parking lot and we have blocked off access to North Ivyhurst with a privacy fence. The residents, who face the back of the building, should actually experience less disruption on their street than when the site was an auto parts store, since there is only access to the center from Millersport.

Unfortunately, there is a misconception about patients in treatment. We are developing this site for people who live in Amherst. They are not dangerous, drug seeking vandals. They are people in recovery, who are grateful for treatment. They could be your friends, neighbors or coworkers. They are not going to risk losing these valuable services by jeopardizing the safety of the neighborhood.

  1. Could you describe protocol for a patient who is visiting the clinic for dependency treatment?

Similar to a doctor’s office, patients receive treatment, whether it be counseling or medication services, by appointment only. Most patients are busy working individuals, parents or students. They do not line up for treatment so there will not be any congestion or loitering.

  1. How great is the need there a need for a chemical dependency treatment clinic in Amherst or in the northtowns in general?

The serious opiate crisis, which has affected the Town of Amherst like every other community in Western New York, points to the growing need for these critical treatment services where our patients live.

  1. Some town officials have stated their discomfort in such a clinic in town – is there anything you can say to ease their displeasure?

We met with elected official in Amherst and were very clear about the services we would be providing. They all recognize the serious need that exists in the community and were supportive of our plans. We were surprised to hear otherwise. We have a waiting list of patients seeking treatment, and every day projects like this are delayed, people in our community are dying. We have additional meetings scheduled with elected officials and plan to meet with area neighbors to clear up any misconceptions they may have about this project so we can move forward with our plans.  

  1. What do you want the community to know about this new center?

We have a long history of providing safe and secure chemical dependency treatment services in Amherst – first on Harlem Road beginning in 1988 and then at our present location on Sheridan Drive since 2006. We intend to be good neighbors, while providing a valuable service to area residents in a professional medical office setting.

We are committed as a program, hospital and health system to fight this crisis in our community. We want to create a more proactive care model that allows the patient to receive care in their own community. Our goal is to provide compassionate, comprehensive, holistic care for individuals recovering from addiction.

We also are committed to being responsible neighbors and good partners in the community. We will do everything possible to ensure that there are no issues or problems related to our program. The stigma associated with patients in recovery needs to be changed, and we believe once we are able to clear up the misconceptions people have, they will see that their fears are unfounded.

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