Catholic Health is planning to relocate its STAR treatment center within the Town of Amherst. On Friday, a candidate for Amherst Town Supervisor suggested that while drug treatment centers are needed, the planned future site is the wrong place to put one.
This fall, Catholic Health intends to open a new outpatient chemical dependency treatment center at 910 Millersport Highway, on the corner of North Ivyhurst Road, where it will expand the services of its current center to include the distribution of medications including methadone and suboxone.
Marjory Jaeger, the current Amherst Town Clerk who is running for Supervisor, says treatment centers are necessary in the town. She explained that as a volunteer with the Williamsville Fire Department, she has participated in calls involving drug overdoses.
Her issue is with the chosen location for the future clinic.
"Some of the concerns that have been voiced are safety and security issues," said Jaeger, standing outside the closed former auto parts store building at 910 Millersport Highway. "As a matter of fact, we had a treatment clinic that was located in Northtown Plaza in the Town of Amherst. The Amherst Police had several ongoing investigations."
Current Town Supervisor Dr. Barry Weinstein, who will leave office at the end of this year due to reaching his term limit, backs Jaeger's stance. He also verified that police had problems outside the former clinic in Northtown Plaza. When asked about an alternative location, he suggested Catholic Health instead expand at their current site.
"I don't know why they're planning on moving. They could enlarge the treatment capacity of their site and keep it there," Weinstein said. "No one has been fighting with them over that site."
John Radzikowski lives on North Ivyhurst. He's retired but recalled his days of working along the railroad near Albany, where he witnessed drug treatment clinics nearby.
"I saw the problems we had with the needles, with the people," he said.
Radzikowski says what Albany did correctly was have the clinics located in industrial zones, away from residential areas. Jaeger believes the Town of Amherst should do the same.
"This is a neighborhood with two parks that are less than a quarter-mile away," Jaeger said. "We want to see Catholic Health be good neighbors and offer the residents some explanation, some meetings and hopefully change the location."
JoAnn Cavanaugh, director of public relations for Catholic Health, says public meetings are exactly what the healthcare provider intends to host in the near future. They're interested, she told WBFO, in addressing and easing neighbors' fears and clearing up what she called misconceptions about what the clinic will be.
"Those stereotypes people have are not the type of patients that we treat," Cavanaugh said. "These are people in recovery."
And, according to Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein, they are everyday people like most Amherst residents. Dr. Burstein supports the idea of providing medication under the same roof as counseling and other already existing programs provided at Catholic Health's current Amherst center.
"It's only fair that people who are struggling with the chronic disease of opioid addiction are able to access the same level of comprehensive services at one stop, just like other people who are struggling with other chronic diseases," Burstein said.
Cavanaugh added that many of the services to be provided at the new center are being provided now at other Amherst clinics and medical offices.
On Thursday, a representative from Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz's office told WBFO that since March 29, 16 deaths were believed to be the result of opioid overdoses, including 10 within the span of a week.
Late last month, officials reported that a suspected "bad batch" of heroin was suspected in seven fatal overdoses within a 24-hour period.