Sweet Brook Nursing Home to close

A company is applying for a special permit to use the former Sweet Brook nursing facility as a residential behavioral health care center.

WILLIAMSTOWN — The Zoning Board of Appeals evaluated the application for a special permit for a proposed residential behavioral health care facility in the former Sweet Brook nursing home at 1561 Cold Spring Road.

During the Thursday evening meeting, neighbors of the proposed facility, including the owners of the adjacent Sweetwood assisted living facility, had questions about traffic, potential noise, the lighting plan, the security protocols, and whether the clients of the facility would be free to roam the neighborhood, and the potential that they might wind up accosting neighbors to find drugs.

One Williamstown resident, Wendy Penner, who has worked to aid people with substance use disorder in finding a path to recovery, noted that questioning the character of those seeking treatment is both the result of the stigma attached to victims of the disorder and at the same time winds up perpetuating that stigma.

“They don’t pose a threat to the community,” Penner said. “They are people who want to be in recovery, seeking treatment for a disease. And the path to recovery is different for everyone.”

Megan Weaver, principal of Nothing But Compliance, represented the applicant, Williamstown Recovery LLC. She noted that the patients are not prisoners, and are voluntarily admitted to the facility. Before admission, they will be evaluated for past violent behavior, and none will be admitted with severe mental illness.

She noted that Berkshire County is is the second highest in the state for opioid overdoses, explaining that the county is in dire need of treatment options.

“This facility will not be a lock-down, and will have 24-hour video surveillance inside and out,” she said. “Substance use disorder is a disease, not a matter of will power, and it’s not a matter of being a bad person. This disease affects people in all walks of life. It’s not like what you might see on TV or in the movies.”

One resident of Stone Hill Road, Paul Hacklish, noted that he had researched the holding company of Williamstown Recovery LLC, whom he identified as Paragon Health Care Group. He said the company is in the business of rehabilitating nursing homes and other medical health care facilities and re-establishing the operations in those buildings.

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“It’s a small Long Island company rehabilitating closed, troubled nursing homes,” he said. “There is no evidence that this organization is qualified to operate a residential behavioral health care facility. There is the potential for serious consequences to the neighborhood.”

He noted that Sweetwood and the Mount Greylock Regional High/Middle School are quite close to the former Sweet Brook building.

An attorney for the company that owns and operates Sweetwood, Karla Chaffee, related some of the concerns of the residents.

The former Sweet Brook building sits about 100 feet north of Sweetwood.

She said the building has nearly 190 beds, and that at that size, there would be a lot of staff coming and going. She wondered if they would be able to review a site plan, parking spaces, security plans and exterior improvements. She also wondered if clients would be free to wander the property, possibly coming into contact with Sweetwood residents. She also wondered about the potential of obstructive noises coming from clients outside the building.

The former Sweet Brook nursing home could soon be an addiction treatment center

Weaver said once the exterior and interior renovations are complete, the facility would start out with about 35 clients in its first year, 94 in the second year, 110 in the third year, 138 in the fourth year and 147 clients in year five.

“There would never be more than 85 percent capacity,” she said.

Weaver also noted that it all depends on their ability to find enough staff, noting that they could not house more patients than the staffing would allow, noting that the ratio of clients to staff would never be more that one staffer to 12 clients.

Staff would include kitchen staff, security, doctors and nursing care. She added that the clients would be busy most of the day with support group meetings, discussions with doctors, and meals. Down time would be for a couple of hours at the end of the day, with bed time being between 9 and 10 p.m.

All this programming would happen inside the building, Weaver said. And there is a courtyard in the building’s interior for those who want to get some fresh air and sunshine. Any outdoor activities would be supervised and would occur on the side of the building opposite from Sweetwood.

“There won’t be anyone outside without supervision,” and that the company is willing to install fencing between the two facilities if necessary.

The board continued the discussion until the next meeting on July 21, adding a deadline for further questions or comments, and more information from the applicant, of June 24.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-281-4622.