Representatives of the Alcohol & Drug Council of Tompkins County held an open house for the new Open Access Center located on 2353 North Triphammer Road in Ithaca on May 8.
The Open Access Center is a 24/7 walk-in assessment, referral and medication-assisted treatment service that also has a 40-bed residential detox and stabilization program. The facility also provides educational services for individuals and families on substance use among other topics. The center also offers individuals and family members of people with opioid addiction training in the use of Naloxone (Narcan), which is a drug that temporarily counteracts opioid overdoses. Brief interventions with individuals who show signs of alcohol and/or drug addiction and follow-up services with patients are also offered at the facility.
A presentation was held at first in a conference room that was packed with residents of the village of Lansing. Multiple representatives of the Alcohol & Drug Council spoke in front of the crowd about the facility. The two purposes of the open house were to fill in the public on the functions of the facility and to address the concerns that residents have expressed about the facility’s purpose and location.
“We really want to just keep meeting nice people like you and talk about the benefits and also hear the concerns, because we really want to be open to any kind of worries that people have and just make sure that you feel heard,” Helen Kaplan, Clinical Director of the Alcohol & Drug Council, said.
One concern regarding the center was the possibility of patients loitering around the facility. However, Angela Sullivan, Executive Director of the Alcohol & Drug Council, said the majority of patients will not be hanging around outside the building. However, if a patient is outside the building, Sullivan said he or she will be under the supervision of a staff member.
“They’re not just going to be able to wander off in the middle of the night if they decide they want to go,” Sullivan said. “There’s a discharge planning process.”
Sullivan also mentioned that there are several security cameras placed on the outside and the inside of the building.
Dr. Marina Manunts, a local dentist who is the owner and founder of Northeast Family Dental, said while she fully supports the establishment of such a facility, she is concerned about the potential safety predicaments relating to the facility’s location, specifically with patients wandering on to other business’s properties. She also said she is disappointed with the lack of communication between the Alcohol & Drug Council and the community and how local businesses were not asked for their assistance with the project.
“I’m just worried about the location and why the business owners were not allowed to come here [and] were not informed,” Manunts said. “I am a businesswoman. Businesses will help you. But right now, we feel like you’ve been hiding from us.”
Lisa Scheelein, Chairperson of the Village of Lansing Planning Board, was in attendance at the open house and said the village did the best it could to inform the community about the proposed project back in September of this past year.
“Last September, we had a meeting where we invited the public; I mean, we can’t tell everyone,” Scheelein said. “The way they’re operating now is an allowed use, and so there’s no legal obligation to send out notices to [everyone] or whatever. However, we said, ‘You know, this is a sensitive issue,’ so we should at least have the informational session. But we cannot send a mailing to everybody in the village.”
Dr. John-Paul Mead, the center’s medical director, said the people coming to the facility are not dangerous.
“These are sad people asking for help,” Mead said. “It’s not the people who are out trying to commit a crime to get money to get drugs. It’s the people who’ve found that’s not what they want anymore and they want help.”
Rev. Steven D. Felker, Pastor of the Christ Chapel located on 160 Graham Rd. also expressed his displeasure with the communication process. Felker also said he is more concerned about the drug dealers in the community than the patients who will be staying at the center.
“Part of what we need to here, I think, for the well-being of this community, is [if] something is going to be done to make sure that the predators aren’t around here, because they’re going to be the ones dropping needles at the McDonalds where little kids are, or the church next door with the backyard where the kids are going to play, or around the apartments or on [a] doorstep,” Felker said.
“This is needed. No question. My concern is the community wasn’t brought in on the conversation very well, and then secondly, the predators and enablers circle around because they don’t want these people to get better.”
Sullivan said the work that will be done at the facility will certainly help with that issue.
“I worked with homeless [veterans] on the street in the cold in Buffalo,” she said. “I can tell you that doing this here would actually be a really good thing to get the people who we don’t want in the community away. The minute you step forward and try to help people have a better life and get people healthy, I fully believe, and I’m talking to you from my faith place, that this is an important work that’s going to have support beyond that.”
Another concern in the community is that the facility is a place for people to visit and exchange syringes, which Sullivan said is not true and that there is no syringe exchange program at the center. The facility is also not a supervised injection site or proposed methadone site.
Moving forward, Kaplan said there is still more work to be done with the center, which includes cultivating its residential detox and stabilization programs.
“The programming that we’re going to do here will connect very well with the programming that we do downtown,” she said. “It’s going to be very positive, client-centered…just all that good evidence-based stuff that we’re already doing will extend to this location.”