May 11, 2007 in City

Owner defends Valley rehab center

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Speaking as much to the crowd of angry neighbors behind him as to the official running the hearing, the owner of a new drug and alcohol rehab made the case Thursday that the new treatment center in Spokane Valley doesn’t pose a threat to its neighborhood.

“We just want to make sure that everyone feels comfortable with us being there,” said Craig Phillips.

“It’s no different than any other health care facility,” he said, later asserting that people probably won’t even notice it is there.

The hearing addressed the conditions that the city of Spokane Valley will place on American Behavioral Health Systems’ new inpatient center as the company moves into the former Good Samaritan nursing home near Valley Hospital and Medical Center.

Designated as an essential public facility by Spokane County, the center had three potential sites, which were ranked by county commissioners in a public process designed by state law to locate things that people usually don’t want in their backyards – like airports and jails.

The nursing home building won out over the abandoned Tidyman’s store on Argonne Road and empty land on Montgomery Road because it would be less expensive to put the center there, Phillips’ lawyer said.

City Attorney Mike Connelly said state law trumps any city regulations that affect the center’s location, although the planning department can impose conditions on how it is built.

Phillips told Hearing Examiner Michael Dempsey that he supports the conditions recommended by city planners, which are limited to landscaping and signage. But neighbors remained unconvinced that the center’s plans will ensure their safety.

“I think there are concerns that need to be addressed, if this goes through, about the security of the people in the surrounding community,” said Randy Frybarger, one of four people who voiced opposition to the project at the hearing.

They grilled Phillips on how his program screens out sex offenders and the mentally ill, why the facility isn’t locked down and who will be responsible if straying addicts begin stealing mail or committing other crimes nearby.

“This facility isn’t going to be fenced whatsoever. It looks like the people will be free to go,” Frybarger said.

Most of those in treatment are there because they want to be, Phillips said. About 10 percent are referred through the courts, he said, and most beds are funded through a state program to treat poor addicts.

A fence is unnecessary, Phillips said, because alarms on doors, regular head counts, security details and strict policies for outside trips ensure no one leaves the premises without authorization.

In his testimony, he went so far as to give his cell phone number for neighbors to call him if they have problems.

If patients sneak out or break other rules, they are discharged. Likewise, anyone who wants to quit the program can leave.

“This is a health care facility, not a jail. It would be like taking Valley hospital and putting a wall around it,” he said.

Much of the concern about ABHS stems from investigations into numerous allegations of patient mistreatment at its north Spokane facility in 2000 and last year, which Phillips characterized as unsubstantiated or minor.

Crews currently are renovating one wing of the building under a permit for work worth about $100,000.

Based on an agreement with the city, the facility already is housing patients. When finished, it will be permitted to treat up to 200 people at a time.

An ABHS employee indicated at the hearing that the company intends to continue using its 117-bed treatment center on Cozza Drive in north Spokane.

Between the two facilities, ABHS could end up with more publicly funded beds than any other treatment center in the state.

Dempsey will evaluate the testimony and documents surrounding the conditional-use permit and issue a written decision in a couple of weeks.

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