Thursday July 26, 2012

Spectrum Health Systems took a welcome, if overdue, first step when its CEO, Charles Faris, faced an audience of at least 60 citizens at Pittsfield's Crosby Elementary School on Monday night to address secrecy -- the primary concern voiced by attendees over the planned methadone clinic in the city.

Since there is widespread acknowledgement of a need for a clinic -- more than 100 people travel out of town regularly to facilities in Springfield and Northampton -- what triggers the resentment of many residents, and officials such as Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless, is the hush-hush approach surrounding proposed locations.

Based on Ned Oliver's reporting in Wednesday's [Eagle,] the company has played hardball in other Massachusetts cities and towns, prevailing legally in support of its position that as an educational and medical not-for-profit operation, it has the right to place a clinic wherever it sees fit, overriding local zoning rules when necessary.

At the same time, once its clinics are up and running, they seem to operate trouble-free, according to statements by police chiefs in Milford and Southbridge, as well as media reports from Framingham, a town that settled with Spectrum after a six-year, $45,000 legal battle with prospects of victory slim.


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Given Spectrum's track record, it remains mystifying that the company refuses to lift the curtain of secrecy surrounding its proposed sites, even if disclosure is not legally required. For the sake of positive community relations, one would think that transparency would be an obvious asset for a firm that has existed since 1969 and operates more than 40 clinics nationwide from Maine to Wash ing ton state.

We welcome Mayor Daniel Bianchi's efforts to settle the lawsuit filed by Spec trum against the city 9 months ago when former Mayor James Ruberto sought to block placement of a clinic in the heart of downtown.

But, as a demonstration of good faith, Spectrum should meet the mayor more than half way, withdraw its lawsuit filed at Federal Court in Boston, lift the confidentiality agreement that has been the source of so much community anxiety, and keep the citizenry informed of its plans to open a clinic, preferably in an easily-accessible spot away from residential neighborhoods. There are plenty of appropriate and desirable locations for a facility that most local specialists on the front lines of fighting drug addiction agree would serve a legitimate need.