<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=915327909015523&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1" target="_blank"> Skip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
top story

Opioid expert welcomes prospect of added treatment in Berkshires. 'We need to strike when people are seeking help.'

Sweet Brook Nursing Home to close

The former Sweet Brook Nursing Home could soon be a 40-bed inpatient behavioral health care facility able to treat substance use disorder, filling a gap in the Berkshires. 

WILLIAMSTOWN — A plan to convert the former Sweet Brook nursing home into a treatment center comes at a time when the opioid overdose crisis is in full swing in the Berkshires.

The Eagle has charted a dramatic rise in fatal opioid overdoses. Last year, the state reported that Berkshire County had the second-highest rate of increase in Massachusetts. Fatal overdoses in the county rose from 39 in 2019 to 56 in 2020. Statewide, overdose deaths rose by 5 percent in 2020, the first increase in three years.

In 2018, approximately 20.3 million people aged 12 or older suffered from substance use disorder in the prior year, including 14.8 million who had an alcohol use disorder and 8.1 million who had an illicit drug use disorder, according to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

National surveys have shown that almost half of all people with substance use disorders experience some form of mental illness. The Massachusetts Health Policy Commission estimates that this challenge faces more than 230,000 people in the state.

Both are issues the new inpatient behavioral health facility hopes to address in Williamstown, according to Megan Weaver, a consultant hired to obtain all the licenses and permits needed from local, state and federal regulators.

Weaver said the center, not yet named, will treat residential patients for substance abuse disorder, any other “co-occurring disorders,” as well as psychological challenges that may lie behind addiction issues.

“Many who face this (substance abuse) disorder have had other issues in their past, such as physical or emotional trauma, abuse or neglect,” Weaver said. “So the mission is to serve an unmet need in the area.”

Dr. Jennifer Michaels, medical director at The Brien Center, said she doesn’t know about the medical programs the Williamstown facility plans to offer, but said that if it is medically sound and using evidence-based treatments, the more beds the better.

“More facilities in general are needed — more beds, more day programs and more therapy,” Michaels said. “And there needs to be immediate access. When people need help, they need it quickly while they are in the mindset to escape their addiction. We need to strike when people are seeking help.”

Michaels said people suffering from substance use disorder come from “all walks of life,” including those younger than 20 through and over 70 — with more cases coming up all the time. “The most important thing is that the treatment will be evidence-based,” she said. “And people should have options for treatment, not everyone reacts the same way to the same treatments.”

Weaver said the facility will take insurance, including state and federally issued insurance policies, while patients would have to pay deductibles.

“For those without insurance, there are programs that are funded by the state that would allow a person to receive free treatment,” Weaver said. “These programs typically have income restrictions and you have to complete a financial needs assessment to be admitted. There are also waiting lists for many of these programs.”

Despite high rates of affliction, national figures for treatment of co-occurring disorders are low, according to a recent report.

The report shows that in 2016, only about 7 percent of adults with co-occurring disorders received both mental health care and substance use disorder treatment, while 38.2 percent received only mental health care, and 2.9 percent received only specialty substance use treatment.

Williamstown Recovery Operator LLC purchased the former Sweet Brook Nursing Home for $1.2 million, according to the application for a special permit filed with the Williamstown Zoning Board of Appeals.

The program says it will have staff on hand 24 hours a day and nurses to handle the use of medications.

While the former nursing home had 177 beds in four wings, Weaver said the new owner intends to serve about 40 patients at a time.

If all licenses and permits are granted, officials hope to open the facility in mid-to-late 2023.

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

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.