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Norwich methadone clinic to be closed for several months

Norwich — More than 500 residents receiving methadone treatment for addiction will have to travel to clinics in Willimantic or New London for the next several months, as a structural defect in the building that houses Norwich's only methadone clinic led the agency to close the center for extensive renovations.

Officials at the Root Center for Advanced Recovery, which owns the building and runs the clinic at 772 W. Thames St., declined to comment on the closure Wednesday. CEO Steven Zuckerman referred to a Jan. 25 announcement he posted on the center’s website that said all staff at the Norwich clinic were transferred to the Willimantic clinic at 54-56 Boston Post Road, 17 miles from the Norwich site.

Norwich officials said the 553 clients who use the Norwich clinic per day could go to the Root Center's New London clinic at 931 Bank St., instead.

“If there is an option more convenient for our clients than Willimantic, we will also work with them to ensure that transition,” the statement said. “This immediate action will maintain uninterrupted care for our clients.”

Representatives from several local human services and health agencies met Wednesday afternoon to discuss the sudden closure of the clinic and the transportation difficulties likely to arise for clients needing to travel to New London or Willimantic.

Norwich Human Services Director Lee Ann Gomes and Uncas Health District Director Patrick McCormack both said Root officials have been very helpful and cooperative in communications with clients and with local agencies trying to respond to the change. Because of strict federal regulations of methadone treatment centers, Root could not just temporarily move to a new location, McCormack said.

Transportation is the main concern, especially if it results in missed appointments, Gomes said. A Root Center official told the group Wednesday that missed appointments have been up slightly, by 1.5 percent, since the weekend closure. The agency said it will continue to monitor the statistics.

Gomes said Root "proactively" contacted Veyo, the contracted medical transportation ride company for HUSKY Health and Medicaid recipients, as a transportation option.

"The first couple days, it has worked OK, not perfectly." Gomes said of clients' ability to get to the clinics. "But as it extends to eight months, the transportation issue might be too harsh for some people."

Gomes said Norwich residents without cars could expect about one hour of travel time to visit the Norwich clinic using a Southeast Area Transit District bus or other transportation.

"Now, the bus ride to New London is a four-hour trip," Gomes said. "That means if you have kids, you have to work out day care arrangements every day."

The Cornerstone City Church in downtown Norwich is using its church van to bring 15 methadone clinic clients to Root's New London facility every day from the St. Vincent de Paul Place soup kitchen at 120 Cliff St. Cornerstone Pastor David Holland said he hopes to keep the service going as long as possible.

"If we can be there every day, we’re going to be there," Holland said. "We’re just making ourselves available for as long as we can, when we can."

Root's statement on the website said the agency's board of directors in October approved a capital expenditure plan to renovate the second floor of the Norwich building, at 772 West Thames St., to expand program space. During a building assessment in the past few weeks, the statement said, a “significant structural integrity issue” was discovered that led to a decision to vacate the building.

"Over the next several months we will work with our builders and engineer to establish a 'new' Norwich site at our current location that is more optimal for our needs now and into the future," the statement said.

City Director of Inspections James Troeger said workers doing renovations at the building discovered cracks in the masonry walls in a second story rear addition on the building. Troeger said he does not think the building is structurally unsound to warrant a demolition order.

“The Norwich building department is aware of the condition and is awaiting instruction from their engineer regarding possible repairs to the structure,” Troeger said.

While SEAT does not run a bus to Willimantic, the Windham Region Transit District runs a commuter bus to the Norwich Transportation Center every few hours as a connector to Willimantic.

But Ashley Shaw Giordano of Norwich, who is in recovery and advocates for others through her work with Community Speaks Out, said the closure of the Norwich clinic could be dangerous for people who don’t have their own transportation.

“If people start withdrawing and can’t spend hours on the bus route to get their methadone, is it easier to go around the corner and go back to what they know, heroin?” Shaw Giordano said. “I hope everyone who is facing this issue stays vigilant and puts in the effort to get their methadone and not turn back.”

Jack Malone, CEO of the Southeastern Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence Inc., said the closure would not affect SCADD’s clients who live at the agency’s Lebanon Pines long-term residential recovery center. SCADD provides transportation for the 15 residents who are on methadone treatment. SCADD’s outpatient clients and those living at its halfway house, however, must provide their own transportation to the clinic.

Gomes and McCormack said most people have made adjustments during the first few days of the closure, but they worry about the daily grind of finding rides and altering their schedules for the long haul.

"It’s a long time to piece it together for people," Gomes said. She is coordinating local agencies' collaborations to handle problems that arise.

"The one thing Norwich is known for is communication and collaboration," McCormack said, "and to be able to assist in a difficult time."


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