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Sunday, October 25, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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New Spokane Valley detox center appeases neighbors after opposition

UPDATED: Fri., Nov. 1, 2019

A new detox center in the Ponderosa neighborhood of Spokane Valley will install street lights, set up a security camera system and host a yearly barbecue to win support from its apprehensive neighbors.

The new facility, Sequoia Detox Center, off of Schafer Road near Castle Park in Spokane Valley, will serve up to eight people at a time and will only accept private insurance. It is also a medically assisted detox center and patients will only stay for a few days.

Sequoia CEO Jon Schlenske said he didn’t realize how opposed the Ponderosa neighborhood was to the project until about a month before today’s 9 a.m. public hearing at Spokane Valley City Hall for the new center. Schlenske said he stopped construction on the new facility until he could come to an agreement with residents.

Neighbors, including Al Merkel, a former Spokane Valley City Council candidate and Ponderosa resident who has worked with neighbors to fight a different development in that neighborhood, said the neighborhood was shocked and upset when they realized a detox facility was being built in their neighborhood.

He said if the neighborhood tried to legally challenge the new facility, they would likely fail, and neighbors also wouldn’t be to gather enough money to buy the facility from Sequoia, so a group of about 90 voted to try and negotiate with Sequoia.

Sequoia agreed to more than a dozen requests from the neighborhood, including scheduling staff around busy traffic times, hiring employees to do cooking and laundry in house to reduce deliveries into the neighborhood, have intake and discharge of patients off site, have the smoking area in the back of the property and plant a thorny bush on the property to make it more difficult to break in.

They also agreed to decorate for the holidays and provide a hotline and texting system for neighborhood complaints.

In exchange, the loosely organized neighborhood group, which Merkel said could eventually become an official neighborhood council, agreed to “live peaceably with (the) company and maintain a harmonious and reasonable relationship.”

They also agreed to read a statement to the hearing examiner today.

“It doesn’t say we support,” Merkel said, “but that we’ve come to a place that we can accept under the conditions that have been stated.”

The new center also agreed not to accept patients who are insured by Medicaid, sex offenders or anyone with a criminal history beyond minor drug or alcohol convictions, which is also written into the agreement with the neighborhood. Merkel said those requirements were already part of the company’s model, but the neighborhood wanted to include them in case Sequoia’s business model changed in the future.

Schlenske said people with private insurance, or professionals seeking treatment, often want a very private, discreet place to seek treatment and prefer an in-home center. He said Spokane Valley also has no detox services. When he worked as the director of Spokane Treatment and Recovery Services, many of the clients came to Spokane from Spokane Valley because there was little for them in their own community.

Schlenske worked at Spokane Treatment and Recovery Services for 14 years and was director for a year, but left after he was arrested for assault and disorderly conduct in Liberty Lake and Great Falls. In 2016, he was accused of pinning a woman against a vehicle while intoxicated outside of a Liberty Lake bar and was arrested again six months later, accused of being drunk and disorderly in a Montana hotel room while his 2-year-old son was there.

He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges, was fined $5,000 and spent two weeks in home detention.

Schlenske’s chemical dependency professional license was also put on probation until 2021 after a finding of unprofessional conduct.

Schlenske said he has not had any issues since his 2016 arrest, and was going through a difficult time while his young son was having health issues. While alcohol was involved in both incidents, he said he did not need treatment, because both incidents were situational and related to mental health issues and not substance abuse.

“If DOH thought it was unsafe for me to be a facilitator, they would have taken away my license,” he said.

Schlenske said he was struggling at the time, and he has been transparent with the Ponderosa neighborhood about his past. He said stories like his also aren’t unusual for people who are in his field.

“If you know the drug and alcohol field, my story is not unique, my story is public,” Schlenske said.

Over the past year, Schlenske worked with a doctor at Hotel California by the Sea, a facility in Western Washington that he said is similar to what Sequoia will be. That doctor, James Knutson, will also care for patients at Sequoia.

Schlenske said if he knew how much opposition he would face when he purchased the property, he likely wouldn’t have chosen that neighborhood. He said the negotiation process was successful, however, and he may incorporate it into his business model when he launches detox centers in other communities.

He said the Sequoia Detox Center will likely open early next year.

Some Ponderosa residents, such as Merkel and Gary Smith, hope their council will address development issues that are overlooked by the city.

Smith, a member of Ponderosa’s new council, said he’s lived in Spokane Valley for decades, long before it incorporated as a city, and hopes their efforts will encourage other neighborhoods to follow suit.

“The neighborhood needs some sort of council, because the city’s not taking care of us,” Smith said.

This story was corrected on Friday Nov. 1 to correct that Schlenske was director of Spokane Treatment and Recovery Services for one year, but was employed at the agency for 14. The spelling of Schafer Road was also corrected.

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