York County Recovery Center Project 'Light at end of Tunnel'
ALFRED, ME – York County Maine Government's plan to create a 58-bed substance use recovery center - offering a “one roof” model of care for county residents that includes observation beds, detox beds, and residential and outpatient treatment - is sorely needed and moving ahead, with a view, county officials say, to an early 2024 groundbreaking.
The “one roof” approach is one that makes sense, said the county government’s clinical consultant, Jennifer Ouellette.
“The barriers our target group experiences include no transportation, low to no reliable income, (and) no stable housing,” said Ouellette, who is a licensed clinical professional counselor, a certified clinical supervisor, and a licensed alcohol and drug counselor. She is currently deputy director of Sanford Housing Authority, an agency which is eyeing options for safe and sober housing once people complete their treatment in Alfred. She has worked in the substance use disorder field for 32 years. “The fact that they will not have to visit multiple agencies to get their needs met is huge,” she said.
Citing information available at the Maine Drug Data Hub, Ouellette said about 8.8 percent of York County residents who older than 12 have some form of substance use disorder. She said federal statistics show that 90 percent of all who need drug treatment don’t receive it, for several reasons. “Some of that is due to (people) not thinking they have a problem, some due to affordability, some due to not knowing where treatment may be located, but much is due to inability to access,” she said.
The Maine Drug Data Hub, a collaboration between the state and University of Maine, reported 622 non-fatal and 43 fatal overdoses in York County from Jan. 1 through July 31. In July alone, there were 103 non-fatal overdoses and seven fatal overdoses reported in York County. Statewide, there were 5,509 non-fatal drug overdoses and 366 fatal drug overdoses from Jan. 1 through July 31. For July alone, there were 767 non-fatal and 54 fatal overdoses statewide. All the fatalities are a combination of suspected or confirmed overdoses, according to the data hub.
The recovery center and a separate first responder training center will be located off Route 4 on county-owned land adjacent to York County Jail. Currently the two projects are in the permitting process with the state’s environmental protection and transportation departments, said York County Manager Greg Zinser. The county is expecting the projects to be on an Alfred Planning Board agenda this fall.
York County Manager Greg Zinser chats about plans for a new substance use recovery center with U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) during King’s visit to the county seat in March.
“This recovery facility is a much-needed resource in York County to ensure that those with substance use disorder have access to comprehensive care close to home,” said Dr. Michael Albaum, Associate Chief Medical Officer of MaineHealth’s southern region, which includes Maine Medical Center and Southern Maine Health Care. “With treatment options available, people can get back to their lives.”
The recovery center building project will be funded with money the county received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, through congressionally directed funding, opioid settlement funds, county funds and the like. Together the recovery center and the first responder center projects are estimated to cost $45 million.
The recovery center is intended to be barrier free and open to York County residents and would rely largely on MaineCare reimbursements for operational costs.
“In my mind, this is like the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Kennebunk Police Chief Robert MacKenzie, a longtime leader in the recovery community. “This is something very unique for Maine and could be a model for other counties. To my knowledge there is nothing like it, and it is much needed. To have it in one space is incredible.”
The county has experience in treating substance use disorder. York County, in collaboration with York County Shelter Programs, has operated the 24-bed Layman Way Recovery Centre on the jail grounds since 2018; it is aimed at people with substance use disorder who have been arrested and charged with nonviolent crimes; they are screened before admission.
Currently, there are no detox beds in York County, and they are sparse elsewhere, those in the recovery community say. There are several outpatient programs, and an online search referenced a couple of transitional housing locations in the county.
In June Governor Janet Mills announced funding for 140 new residential treatment beds in various existing facilities: 112 beds in Portland, 6 in Windham, 12 in Auburn, 6 in Bangor and 4 in Presque Isle. The new beds complement 387 existing licensed Maine beds, according to a news release from the governor’s office.
York County Sheriff William L. King Jr. estimated deputies bring people looking for recovery services to Southern Maine Health Care several times a month. They may have tried to detox and are experiencing withdrawal symptoms, having drug-induced thoughts of self-harm, or other associated symptoms, he said.
“We just don't have any place other than the hospital to take them - and we need to do something,” said King.
Albaum said SMHC sees a variety of issues related to substance use disorder, multiple times a week. Some people have overdosed, he said, and there are those with complications like heart valve issues, or bone infections from intravenous drug use. Some may come to the hospital with other issues, but substance use disorder is a part of their lives, he added.
Albaum said the increased use of fentanyl has resulted in a greater need for services. One procedure that has helped, he said, is that when someone arrives at the emergency department with substance use disorder, looking to recover, medication assisted treatment can be prescribed as a bridge until the individual can get to treatment. “You have to offer therapy,” he said. “You don’t want to put barriers in the way.”
Zinser called the recovery center project a “substantial response to a substantial problem.”
He said the county will discuss language in Alfred’s ordinances and other factors when it meets with the town Planning Board, and that in the end, permitting will determine the bed capacity of the new recovery center building.
“York County Commissioners are committed to see both facilities move forward,” Zinser said of the recovery center and first responder training center.
He said the reception the recovery project has received has been generally positive but noted there have been a handful of disquieting remarks.
“The opposition we face is “we don’t want the druggies and addicts wandering around,” Zinser said. He noted those who will be enrolled at the center are seeking treatment – they’re not “looking for their next fix.”
“These are our friends and neighbors seeking help and we want to help them,” he said.
This is an architect’s rendering of the new substance use recovery center to be built and operated by York County government. The center, which would be located on the grounds of York County Jail off Route 4, is undergoing state permitting. The project is expected to be on a town of Alfred Planning Board agenda this fall.