Wednesday August 15, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Pittsfield taxpayers will foot the $100,000 bill incurred by the city as part of a settlement with Spectrum Healthcare Systems that was filed in federal court on Tuesday to resolve a dispute over a proposed methadone clinic.

According to Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, the payment is coming from funds in the fiscal 2013 budget approved by the City Council in June.

"We set aside the money in case we needed it," Bianchi said. "I was hoping we wouldn't use it."

City Solicitor Kathleen E. Degnan noted the city's liability insurance won't cover a claim in order to pay the penalty.

Through emails to The Eagle and before City Council, several city residents on Tuesday said they were thrilled with the settlement.

"I think this is a very expensive lesson to pay $100,000 to satisfy a lawsuit that should have never taken place," said Mary Lou Robinson.

The settlement also allows Spectrum to open its methadone treatment center on Summer Street this fall, but it will consider eventually moving the center into a Berkshire Health Systems facility, city officials announced Monday.

The Worcester-based nonprofit sued Pittsfield last year after Mayor James M. Ruberto and his administration sought to block a building permit for the clinic.

"We commend the city for reaching a negotiated resolution of this matter," said Charles Faris, Spectrum's president and CEO.

However, Faris, in his brief written statement issued Tuesday, didn't comment on the specifics of the settlement, opting to look forward to the clinic's opening later this fall.

"We are primarily concerned with getting the treatment service operational and responding to the significant levels of addiction in Pittsfield," Faris said. "We concur with Mayor Bianchi that the provision of this service is part of the solution, not the problem."

The state Department of Public Health has determined Pittsfield needs a methadone clinic to serve the number of drug addicts who reside here. According to state health officials, there were 695 non-fatal opiod related overdoses in Pittsfield three years ago.

Meanwhile, Berkshire Health Systems officials on Tuesday had no further comment on the possibility that BHS could provide space for the clinic if Spectrum chose to relocate.

Pending approval from the city's Building Department -- likely by mid- to late October -- the clinic will open in the Berkshire Nautilus building, according to city officials. The second floor of the three-story building is currently being renovated to accommodate the clinic.

According to Spectrum's website, it has posted job openings for eight employees who will staff the outpatient facility.

The potential location of the methadone clinic created a firestorm of opposition two months ago when word spread that Spectrum was possibly looking at private property on Stoddard Avenue. Many residents and city councilors were upset over that location, primarily because the city had made no mention Spectrum was considering the site.

Bianchi said he couldn't comment on the negotiations between the city and Spec trum, because he had to honor a confidentiality agreement between the nonprofit and Ruberto, reached prior to the mayor taking office Jan. 1.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233