WASILLA — Wasilla will become home to a new drug and alcohol counseling center and a methadone clinic following votes by the city’s planning commission Tuesday night.
Commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the counseling center with a slew of conditions, including prohibiting residential or drug replacement treatment programs and prohibiting the center from treating registered sex offenders. They also voted 4-0 to approve the methadone clinic with some conditions relating to hours of operation. Testimony about the two operations ran into three hours.
About a dozen people testified in favor of the Wisdom Traditions Counseling LLC, despite strong objection from the operators of the Touch of Home Daycare, which is located near the proposed counseling facility. Several other people also testified against the facility.
Wisdom Traditions director Michael Demolina said his business has operated a location adjacent to youth-oriented businesses — including a Bouncing Bears — in Anchorage for a decade without any issues.
He said the course of treatment at Wisdom Traditions involves a 12-hour education course required by the state, and ranges from weekly meetings to thrice-weekly meetings at the more intensive outpatient end. Meetings are generally conducted in the evenings, and about 80 percent of patients have health insurance — though the clinic does provide a sliding scale for those without insurance. The center focuses on a wide spectrum of addiction behaviors, Demolina said.
Ultimately, the center is focused on building a social stability network for its clients, Demolina said.
“Where we’ve really found that treatment works is in long-term continuing care, and that’s what all the research across the nation really indicates, is that some kind of social sober group is really necessary,” he said.
Pressed by commissioner Loren Means for an example of the worst-case scenario at the Anchorage clinic, Demolina gave a relatively banal account.
“There was a time recently where someone had a medical seizure in a group, and that was a medical issue,” he said. “We had to call 911.”
Cindy Bettine owns the property across the street from the planned counseling center, and said as long as officials worked to ensure that the provisions related to drug replacement therapy and residential treatment were followed, the business would be welcome.
“We’re not against the facility, but we would be very concerned that it is watched so that (the treatment conditions) are not added to their treatment plan,” she said. “And actually, I think a little upgrade to that property and the neighborhood might be a very good thing.”
The clinic will serve a serious need, said Ray Michaelson, a representative for the Mat-Su Health Foundation. A behavioral health foundation scan found long wait lists for existing addiction treatment services in the Valley. Patients who can’t access treatment programs can prolong their addictions, Michaelson said.
“The timeliness and access to treatment is crucial when you’re dealing with the areas of addiction,” he said.
Some who testified said they were swayed by the presentation and the limitations imposed on clients, like Stacy Lowe, who owns and operates a chiropractor office with a large pediatric practice.
“I was concerned,” she said. “But after reading the recommendations that are put forward by the staff review and after listening to the presentation here this evening, I think it’s a fantastic business proposition. I would be excited to have them in my neighborhood.”
Others remained opposed, like Felicia Seiler, daughter of Brandi Sieler, the administrator of Touch of Home. Both women spoke in opposition to the proposed counseling center.
“I feel this is going to hurt an established Wasilla business,” Felicia Sieler said. “This is going to hurt other established Wasilla businesses, the other businesses in the vicinity, because parents aren’t going to want their children around addicts.”
Felicia Sieler suggested other locations would be better suited.
“It needs to be in Wasilla or Palmer, but it needs to be next to the police station, next to the probation office, next to the courthouse, in an open field somewhere, not in downtown Wasilla where there are multiple daycares, elementary schools, junior high and high school,” she said.
That drew a pointed question from commissioner Loren Means.
“Do you ever take your child to Carrs or Fred Meyer or Wal-Mart?” he said. “Guess who’s there with you.”
Several patients testified that they had been successful in beating their addictions because of Wisdom Traditions. Others rejected the notion that the counseling center would draw loiterers or disrupt area businesses, like Jim Lee. Lee told commissioners he beat alcohol addiction thanks to the community at Wisdom Traditions.
“The people that are coming to treatment have got lives too,” Lee said. “People that are in these programs have got families, most of them have got jobs, and they’ve got schedules to keep.”
Methadone clinic also approved
A proposed methadone clinic in a strip mall on Sun Mountain Avenue, near an existing liquor store and alcoholic treatment location, also drew concern from at least one resident of the neighborhood along Whispering Woods Drive.
Jamie Staats said she worries about potential foot and car traffic as a result. She lives about 1,200 feet from the proposed clinic.
“I live in a residential, nice neighborhood full of kids,” she said. “It really scares me that something like this would go in so close to my house.”
Staats suggested moving it somewhere else.
Clinic operator Community Medical Services has been eyeing expansion to Alaska for several months, and saw an opportunity after an earlier clinic operated by Zipperer Medical Group closed earlier this year, according to testimony by CMS CEO Nick Stavros. Figures he prevented put the starting number of patients at between 100 and 120, with a maximum capacity of between 500 and 600 patients. Methadone is used to wean addicts off of opiates by preventing withdrawl symptoms. The clinic administers liquid methadone in the presence of a nurse, after a mandatory physical examination. After two years of clean urinalysis, patients may take a 30-day supply of the drug home. About 90 percent of patients at company clinics successfully complete a course of treatment, Stavros said.
Commissioners also questioned Stavros about the potential for medication theft or resale. The company risked investigation and citation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency should the clinic’s medicine fall into the wrong hands.
He said the clinic would kick people out of the treatment center for loitering, and will work with neighborhood watch groups to answer any security concerns, as the company has in cities in Arizona, Stavros said.
“We absolutely do not want to come implant a clinic into this city that’s going to be problematic to the citizens,” he said. “And if we did that, we wouldn’t be a successful company.”
Contact Reporter Brian O’Connor at 352-2270, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @reporterbriano.