CPH plans transitional living facility

For many patients recovering from drug or alcohol addiction, staying clean can get harder after they leave the treatment facility.

Many of those who graduate from Serenity House, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in Soldotna, don’t have anywhere to go afterward where they will be safe from relapsing. Patients can stay in Serenity House for 30 days, and many fall back into their ordinary lives — drugs or alcohol included.

After years of planning, Central Peninsula Hospital, which operates Serenity House, is working to build a transitional living facility to take in the patients who want to stay clean.

Bruce Richards, government and external affairs manager for the hospital, said about 40 percent of Serenity House alumni do not have a safe place to go after they leave the facility.

“Maybe they do have a place to go but it’s not a safe place to go, but either way, it’s a place that will get in the way of their recovery,” Richards said. “That was kind of the goal of this project, to provide a place for those people to go.”

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly introduced an ordinance to purchase a building in Soldotna for $395,000 which would be converted into a 16-bed transitional housing facility called the Diamond Willow Sober Living Project. The facility, located at 362 Tyee Street, would allow drug and alcohol rehabilitation patients to live for longer periods than they can at Serenity House.

Although the building technically has enough space to house up to 24 residents, only 16 are planned live there at any one time. Under Alaska’s Medicaid laws, that is the maximum number of patients that can be treated in an outpatient facility at once. The hospital is planning to keep the lower floor — which is built out as squash and racquetball courts with locker rooms — as an investment, possibly for rental, according to a survey of the facility conducted by the Anchorage-based Foraker Group.

The plans have been in the works for nearly two years. After several revisions to the renovations, the project will cost an estimated $1.26 million for construction and property purchase. The majority of the funding comes from a combination of grants, totaling about $1.1 million. The hospital would withdraw $395,000 from its Plant Replacement and Expansion Fund.

That’s mostly a backup, though, Richards said. If all the grants come through — a grant from the Rasmuson Foundation for $300,000 is still pending — then the hospital may not have to use any of that amount to pay for the project, he said.

Tentatively, if the project is approved at the borough assembly meeting in February, the hospital will try to send out a request for final designs and get started by early or mid-summer.

The renovation is relatively minimal, so it should not take too long to finish, though the target end date is hard to predict right now, he said.

“This has been a long haul just to get to where we are,” Richards said. “It’s not something you can rush right along, having to go through the borough process and grant funders and such.”

Though Serenity House is located on a large parcel of property on Kalifornsky Beach Road, the choice to place the new facility in central Soldotna is intentional for several reasons, Richards said.

The first was cost: building a new structure on the Serenity House land would have cost $2.3 million for a building the same size as the one the hospital plans to purchase, he said. The second was transportation: it will be easier for the residents to find a job if businesses and resources are closer.

“A lot of (the residents) don’t have cars, or they’ve had their licenses revoked,” Richards said. “There are a lot of things going on. But if you’re here in town, there’s a pretty good chance you can walk just about anywhere you need or ride a bicycle.”

Residents would likely live in the housing facility for about six months, though some may live there for longer or shorter amounts of time depending on their needs, Richards said. While there, they will be supervised and can learn life skills like cooking or balancing a checkbook, he said.

The facility is also located close to two other housing projects. Its immediate neighbor to the south is called the Watts Homestead, which provides housing to those recently released from the Alaska Psychiatric Institute or the Alaska Department of Corrections.

The other is Aurora Commons, a low-income housing facility, a few lots south on Tyee Street.

Richards said the hospital plans to be a good neighbor in Soldotna, the same way Serenity House is on Kalifornsky Beach Road.

“These are people who are getting better, not getting worse,” Richards said. “We’ve been good neighbors there, and we’ll be good neighbors here.”

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com

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