By Seth Daniel
In a jam-packed meeting of the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA) on Tuesday night, neighbors gathered to get information from the Acadia Methadone Clinic on Topeka Street, and they learned the clinic has plans to expand sooner rather than later – likely something that will be an annual occurrence to hit growth targets for services that are more and more in demand.
Representatives from the clinic told neighbors they serve about 700 people a day for Methadone treatment and counseling, and they are looking to hire more staff soon and expand their clients by around 2 percent this coming year.
“We are a for-profit,” said Joanne Forson of Acadia, which is based in Tennessee and operates scores of Methadone clinics in Massachusetts. “Our reimbursement rates are the same as a non-profit. What we get reimbursed for medication and counseling is the same rate as a non-profit. We currently have a freeze on expansion in our Boston program because we want to hire more staff. We want to do more services. We want to meet people’s needs…We hold people accountable if they’re not going to counseling. We discharge people…I don’t have a number right now. I’m looking to add less than 10 percent this year. I think it was along the lines of 1.5 percent. It is not something we’re looking to do until we are ready. That wouldn’t make sense.”
Added Susan Carreiro-Penacho, regional director, “This year the census growth is set at 1.5 percent for 2017.”
Neighbors have long asked for the clinic and the other two clinics to visit WSANA, especially recently since the Methadone Mile situation has escalated much further than the historic problems that have existed in the area for decades.
Many have blamed the clinic on Topeka Street, as well as CSAC on Bradston Street and another in the neighborhood, for attracting problem people to the neighborhood that increase the daytime homeless population and lead to problems like public urination and defecation on homes in the East Springfield Street, Massachusetts Avenue and Worcester Square areas.
“Not everyone we treat comes in every day,” said Forson. “Most of our patients told us they drive to the program and leave right way. There is a population which comes to us that live in the area and are in the shelters. Some of these folks will stay around here longer.”
Penacho said many people come into the Boston clinic in order to have privacy, and they leave immediately.
“We do have statistics on the people who are coming into the clinic from outside,” she said. “The majority of those folks who do that are coming in the morning and they drive in. They are here because they don’t want people in their communities to know they are in treatment. We don’t tend to see people who are homeless or out on the street coming in to go to our facility.”
She added that 92 percent of their patients at the Boston clinic are opiate-free after one year.
Neighbors insisted that there is a problem with the Methadone clinics having patients that migrate in large herds down the streets in Worcester Square, which is a fair distance away from the actual clinic on the other side of Melnea Cass Boulevard.
Forson was unaware of such things and admitted she doesn’t actually know if that is happening, that most of the time she is in the neighborhood, she is at the facility.
“These folks aren’t coming to the Back Bay or to South Boston,” said Andy Brand of WSANA. “They’re coming to our corner of the South End and that’s because we have three Methadone Clinics and we’re talking about a fourth (on Washington Street). That’s the problem.”
One suggestion was made by a neighbor who just moved from WSANA after living near the Pine Street Inn. He related that security comes out in orange vests and engages with the population outside of that shelter almost once an hour.
Councilor Frank Baker said he thought that was a good idea to help drive home the idea that clients hanging around need to respect the neighborhood.
“I know you have strict confidentiality, but having a presence on the street is a good idea,” he said. “We also need to get the four new street workers (from the Office of Recovery Services) over to this other side of the neighborhood on East Springfield. I know it’s difficult, but we have to do it. It’s the whole area. This neighborhood is going through a very, very tough time.”
WSANA Safety Committee members Brand and Sahar Zaheer, as well as President George Stergios, have called for a quarterly update with the clinics at the WSANA meetings. Forson and the City officials in attendance, including Jen Tracy of the Office of Recovery Services, said they were amenable to that.
On a more positive note, Beth Grant of the Boston Public Health Commission’s homeless shelter program, said they have made great gains with the new triage workers greeting all clients since February.
She said out of 743 people who have been triaged at Woods Mullen Shelter and Southhampton Shelter, 211 have been moved out of the shelter and the area within 60 days.
“We’ve seen 67 percent of those folks moved out of the area go back to their homes or to live with their families,” she said. “That triage has gone a long way to helping people who get caught up in the system. It’s helped to inform people that this isn’t a place to stay for a long time.”
She also said they have been really working hard to secure the beds necessary for the winter months, including saving beds at Pilgrim Shelter in Dorchester and the Night Shelter downtown.
“We’re ahead of the curve in being on top of that, in terms of making sure we have all the beds we need for the winter,” she said.
Woods Mullen is all female and serves 240 people; Southhampton serves men and has 400 beds. Pilgrim has 175 beds in the winter months.