Albert J. Marro / Staff FILE Photo
The proposed site for a methadone clinic in Rutland is in building 10 at The Howe Center.
Rutland may need to wait a year for a proposed methadone clinic to open.
Originally scheduled to open in October 2012, the drug treatment program for addictions to opiate drugs such as heroin and prescription painkillers will be delayed at least a year from that date and maybe longer, according to state Department of Health officials.
In November, Health Commissioner Harry Chen said he hoped the facility would open at some point this year — the sooner the better.
Last month, Deputy Health Commissioner Barbara Cimaglio, who oversees Vermont’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse program, told legislators the clinic would be open by January 2014.
In an email interview Friday, Cimaglio said she anticipated an earlier opening date of October or November.
But whether the clinic opens nine months or 11 months from now, Rutland officials said Friday they’re upset with the delays.
“I’m very frustrated,” Rutland Police Chief James Baker said. “It’s a big part of what’s needed to address the opiate problem in this city. I’m frustrated that it will be at least a year later than expected.”
Baker spoke out at a number of public hearings held last month to inform city residents and hear their feedback to the proposed facility where addicts would be administered their doses of methadone — a drug that blocks the cravings for opiates without producing a high.
Supporters of the methadone clinic, including Rutland Mayor Christopher Louras, also deferred to public concerns about two proposed locations for the treatment center before achieving public consensus for a site inside the Howe Center.
Building 10 in the industrial complex is still the intended home for the clinic although renovations to the space still need to be made.
After all the work put into garnering public support and finding a home for the facility, Louras said the continued delays in opening the center were unacceptable.
“I was willing to accept a six- to nine-month wait from (the October 2012) date. Anything further than June or July would be very disconcerting,” Louras said. “The city did a lot of heavy lifting to make this happen and it’s needed even more now than it was before.”
The delayed opening has been mainly due to a financial impasse between the state and Rutland Mental Health Services, which had originally agreed to run the center.
Dan Quinn, CEO of RMHS, said last year the state’s plan of serving no fewer than 400 patients in the clinic’s first year would have cost his organization as much as $300,000 in uncovered expenses during the first two years of operations.
On Friday, Quinn, who operated a methadone clinic in Massachusetts, said the state’s plan of opening the clinic by October was doable but a challenge.
“I think you’re looking at a good five months until the doors could open,” he said. “If someone signed a contract to run it today you would still need five months minimum to find and train the staff, renovate the space, and get it all up and running. It’s not a small issue here.”
Alan Aiken, the director of methadone clinics in Berlin, St. Johnsbury and Newport operated by Baart Behavioral Health, said he too believes the state will be faced with a logistical challenge to open the clinic this year.
“It can be a slow, tedious and time-consuming process, and 400 patients in one year is certainly a challenge,” he said. “Just recruiting certified or appropriate people is a challenge in itself. There’s not a lot of people in the workforce who have that kind of training coming in.”
Cimaglio said earlier in the week she hoped the state and Rutland Regional Medical Center, which is assisting the department, are just weeks away from reaching an agreement with a provider to run the facility — a first step that would allow work on every other aspect of the start-up to begin.
While the methadone treatment clinic might be delayed for months, Cimaglio did say the health department has approved three primary care facilities in Rutland to help treat opiate addictions.
Those doctors will help by providing other forms of medication treatment, such as buprenorphine, and counseling, she said.
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