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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Privatize opioid treatment services? Spokane County Health District looking for input

Spokane Regional Health District Treatment Services Director Misty Challinor, center, addresses the crowd along with County Commissioners Amber Waldref, left, and Mary Kuney during the ribbon-cutting in October 2023 for the district’s Opioid Treatment Services Program in Spokane.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokane Regional Health District is looking for input on a proposal to privatize its opioid treatment services.

This week, the public health organization held three town halls to gather citizen comment and concern for the idea. While final approval to spin off treatment services is still far away, SRHD administrative officer Alicia Thompson hopes a privatized organization could provide more improved services than a public entity.

“We are bound by governmental processes and can’t move quickly. Plus, our focus has to be on being wise stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Thompson said at a Thursday town hall. “Under a private business structure, they don’t have the same restraints that we do in government. They’re actually able to be more nimble and responsive to the need within communities.”

SRHD’s first methadone clinic opened in 1990 and has since grown to serve more than 1,000 actively enrolled patients. Still, direct treatment is not typically conducted by a public health agency, Thompson said.

If Thompson gives her stamp of approval in September, the health district will begin to develop specific plans with private entities that may be willing to take on treatment services. The administrative officer noted she recently had a conversation with a “very large” Idaho-based organization with 117 different opioid treatment programs. She also has meetings scheduled with more than half a dozen similar drug treatment organizations.

After attending the Thursday town hall, resident Jeff Beaulac said he had “mixed feelings” about the proposal.

“Based on what I have heard so far today, I would be against it. I believe for privatization to work, there needs to be a good plan in place, and I haven’t heard one today. I understand this is early in the process, but I’d want to know what kind of oversight would exist to ensure clients are not treated as just a revenue source,” Beaulac said, noting he previously worked with impacted populations in the community.

In her presentation, Thompson did note that “transparency” is an advantage of a government institution.