Decision on in-patient drug treatment facility goes to Pulaski Town Council

Decision on in-patient drug treatment facility goes to Pulaski Town Council

By MIKE WILLIAMS

The Patriot

A request from Mainspring Recovery Center for a Special Exception to town zoning to allow construction of an in-patient drug treatment facility on Lee Highway now goes to Pulaski Town Council with no clear recommendation from the town’s planning commission.

The commission held a public hearing Monday night on the Special Exception request and heard from Mainspring officials along with residents in the area – some speaking for and some against the request.

In the end, the commission members – whose job was to consider the issue and make a non-binding recommendation to town council whether to approve or reject the Special Exception request – voted 3-3 on the question.

Five members of the commission were present for the meeting – Chairman Kevin Meyer, David Hall, Christopher Conner, Luke Seigfried and AJ Shrance.

A sixth member, Vice Chairman Janet Jonas, attended via the internet, although due to technical issues her comments could not be heard.

When time came to vote on a recommendation to council, Seigfried and Shrance voted to recommend approval. Jonas also voted to recommend approval via text message.

The validity of Jonas’ vote, however, came into question due to the fact she and her family have apparently moved from the area.

Caroline Smith, Planner/Zoning Administrator for the Town of Pulaski and the commission’s clerk and staff member, told The Patriot after the hearing that Jonas continues to maintain a residence in town.

During the voting, Town Attorney Spencer Rygas said he would have to research the matter to determine whether Jonas could still be considered a voting member of the commission. In the meantime, he advised Meyer to cast a vote on the matter. Normally, the chairman only votes to break a tie.

Hall and Conner both voted against recommending approval of the special exception request, setting up the vote by Meyer. He voted no, creating the 3-3 split decision.

The matter now goes to town council, which will hold a public hearing on the issue on Aug. 2 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at the Pulaski Municipal Building.

Mainspring is seeking to create a 50-bed capacity, in-patient residential program for individuals with a substance use disorder diagnosis. The facility – to be housed in the now vacant New River Medical Center clinic facility next to LewisGale Hospital Pulaski at 2460 Lee Highway – would serve clients 18 years old and older from within a 60- to 70-mile radius and who are voluntarily admitting themselves to the facility.

Both the clinic facility and LewisGale Hospital are located in areas zoned R-1, Single Family Residential District.

It is anticipated by Mainspring that up to 50 jobs would be created at the facility.

Smith noted her office had received 10 letters and had three walk-in visitors come to talk with her about the Mainspring request. She said all the letters opposed the request with the main points of concern being the location of the facility in close proximity to an elementary school, the effect it would have on the values of surrounding property, overall general safety in the area and possible traffic concerns as a result of the facility.

Mainspring officials spoke on the need in this region of the state for residential treatment facilities such as they are proposing for Pulaski, and noted the fact Radford University and Virginia Tech are nearby and could be good sources for the health professionals that would be needed to staff the facility.

Mainspring is proposing a 3.5 level facility which means it would operate around the clock residential care with full professional support of nurses, counselors and recovery support specialists. Staff would do rounding on their patients every 30 minutes when they are in withdrawal management and every hour when not in withdrawal.

“So, there’s no ‘missing people.’ We have a strict schedule,” the Mainspring official noted in response to concerns expressed that patients might wonder off or escape into the surrounding residential neighborhoods.

She said the facility would be manned 24/7 with security cameras.

“Nobody leaves,” she said. “If someone leaves it’s because a family member comes and picks them up and takes them to a doctor’s appointment and brings them back.

“We take extra measures to make sure that we are a good partner with the community,” she added.

Another Mainspring official said that when a patient is admitted, discharge planning begins – addressing concerns over what happens to patients after treatment.

He added there is no loitering around a facility such as Mainspring is proposing, and people won’t just be discharged out onto the street.

He noted that two facilities in the region that had been opened recently are now full, which he said speaks to the level of need in the area.

Meyer said his understanding is that the Life Center in Galax had purchased the former training center facility in Woodlawn and is planning to open a 100-bed residential facility there.

“I also understand the former Saint Albans facility [in Fairlawn] was sold in June to Pyramid and they plan to open a residential facility there that I would imagine would be at least as big as the former hospital,” Meyer said, noting his concern with the new facilities being planned was more focused on clinical staffing than the number of patients.

Lucy Divers Glenn was one of several residents of the Pleasant Hills area across from the proposed facility who spoke in opposition.

She said she had concerns about adequate staffing by qualified healthcare professionals. She expressed concerns also about traffic in the area, three large schools, a rehab facility and the hospital being close by.

“Another serious concern is safety and security,” Glenn said, noting the close proximity of her street to the facility.

Myrtle Scott echoed the concern about staffing, saying the rehab and the hospital don’t have enough staff now. She, too, expressed concerns about security and safety, the affect on property values as well as traffic.

Ernie Wallace said he had worked in the substance abuse counseling field and agreed with much of what the Mainspring officials had said.

However, he questioned the need for a facility in Pulaski if the Woodlawn and Fairlawn facilities materialize.

Jane Macadoo, of the Pleasant Hill Drive area, said she is an active licensed RN familiar with mental health, drug and alcohol abuse treatments working in the ICU.

She presented questions about crime and property values, as well as whether Mainspring is accredited.

Gary Cox said some people are not going to get well unless they can go to a hospital.

“This methadone stuff is not drug treatment,” he said. “It’s a maintenance drug to me.

“But this is an opportunity to do a little good for somebody that we don’t know. That’s nameless right now. But there are concerns.

“I came here with mixed emotions tonight, but something touched me. I’ve been swayed. I don’t envy your position,” Cox told the commissioners.

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