'Suitable location' sought for methadone clinic

Thursday June 28, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Though neighborhood protests appear to have successfully scuttled a methadone clinic planned for Stoddard Avenue, city officials say they’re still dedicated to working with the private nonprofit company behind the proposed facility to find it a "suitable location" in Pittsfield.

Citing a 2009 study, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said the city desperately needs the drug-treatment clinic to address the high rates of opioid addiction here.

Bianchi said 120 Pittsfield residents currently travel to either to Greenfield or Springfield for treatment of opioid addiction. There were 695 non-fatal opioid overdoses in Pittsfield in 2009, according to the state Department of Public Health.

"We have a problem here in Pittsfield," said Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi during his weekly show on Pittsfield Community Television. "It’s a difficult thing to admit."

Spectrum Health Systems Inc. of Worcester had been in talks to open a clinic on Stoddard Avenue in a mostly residential neighborhood near Berkshire Medical Center. Bianchi announced Tuesday night that the building’s co-owner, Dr. Philip Adamo, the chairman of the Pittsfield Board of Health, no longer wanted to enter into an agreement with Spectrum. Adamo co-owns the building with Patricia Lehmann.

Neither Spectrum nor Adamo returned calls seeking comment Wednesday, but news that the clinic might be located on Stoddard Avenue had sparked an angry protest by residents of the city’s Morningside neighborhood who called the siting inappropriate.

City officials did not comment on Stoddard Avenue being considered as the site for a methadone clinic until the information leaked out late last week. Bianchi has said officials have been unable to comment publicly on the measure due to a confidentiality agreement that is part of continuing litigation between the city and Spectrum. The confidentiality agreement is contained in an email between Spectrum’s attorney Paul Holtz man, and former city attorney Richard M. Dohoney.

Stressing that Spectrum is a private company that can open offices wherever it sees fit, Bianchi said that in the "next several weeks" he plans to suggest to Spectrum several alternative possible locations for a clinic. Bianchi wouldn’t say what those locations were because he hasn’t talked to property owners yet.

"It’s got to be something that serves their clients and it’s also got to be something that’s not impactful for our residents," Bianchi said. "We’re not going to give up on it, we’re going to try to accommodate everybody."

In the interim, Bianchi said he hopes to hold a public forum featuring law enforcement officials and medical professionals in an effort to outline the need for a methadone clinic.

Since Bianchi took office, he said Spectrum has been unwilling to sit down with city officials and has declined an opportunity to participate in a community meeting that the mayor hoped would have eased concerns by outlining how the company does business.

Relations between Spect rum and the city had been icy going back to former-Mayor James M. Ruberto’s administration, which denied Spectrum a building permit last year when the nonprofit was interested in opening a methadone clinic in downtown Pittsfield at the Berkshire Nautilus building on Summer Street.

Spectrum sued the city in Federal Court, but in November a federal judge denied the company’s request to begin work on the clinic immediately. The suit is still pending, but Bianchi said the parties are close to a settlement.

"This is very important," he said. "We do not as a community have millions of dollars to spend fighting a court case and eventually losing, and there’s all sorts of precedent that would suggest we would."

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