Hospital moves forward on detox facility

Central Peninsula Hospital is moving forward with plans to build a detox center in Soldotna.

The hospital received a grant from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services in January to provide treatment for substance abuse disorders. The first year of the three-year grant will provide the hospital with $500,000, then $1 million in each of the subsequent years, if the grant is still available and the hospital reapplies in cycle.

The plans are still up in the air for the particulars of precisely what services will be available at the center, but the hospital has zeroed in on a building to house the program: 354 Tyee Street, a facility currently owned by Kenai Peninsula Housing Initiatives that previously housed people with psychiatric or cognitive disabilities.

The six-bed, six-bathroom facility would provide medical assistance for people withdrawing from substances like alcohol or opioids. Not only is Alaska one of the top states in alcohol consumption per capita, the national crisis of prescription opioid and heroin abuse has hit the state hard in the past few years, with health care providers like Central Peninsula Hospital seeing a large number of people either currently using or withdrawing from use of substances in its clinics and emergency room. The hospital’s residential substance abuse facility, Serenity House, is the only facility of its kind on the peninsula and has limited room.

The detox facility won’t be an inpatient, residential facility — rather, it will provide supervision and assistance so people can safely detox, said Bruce Richards, the director of external affairs and marketing for Central Peninsula Hospital.

“We’re only talking a few days to possibly a week for people who are withdrawing from whatever the substance of their addiction is,” he said. “It’s not like a residential treatment; it’s withdrawal services.”

Though the property has been assessed at $703,900, the owners accepted an offer of $500,000 from the borough, according to the purchasing agreement submitted to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. Because the borough owns the hospital’s land and assets and leases them to a nonprofit operating board, the assembly has to approve some of the hospital’s bond issuances and withdrawals from its Plant Replacement and Expansion Fund. The hospital has asked for $750,900 from the fund, with $240,900 allotted for remodeling the building for hospital use, according to a memo from Land Management Office Marcus Mueller to the assembly.

The interior needs some work to be livable and up to code, according to a letter from Richards to the borough.

“The scope of the project will include: code requirements identified in the building report, new paint and flooring, casework, minor remodeling (for configuration), signage, furniture fixtures equipment (FF&E), information technology costs for hospital associated operations, and security system completion,” the letter states.

The new facility would be the second related to addiction treatment on Tyee Street owned by Central Peninsula Hospital. The assembly approved funding for the hospital to purchase a building close by on Tyee Street for a transitional housing facility, which provides affordable longer-term housing for patients coming out of addiction treatment.

In the past year, more facilities have opened in the central Kenai Peninsula area for those seeking help to recover from addiction or to stay sober. Two sober-living homes have opened in Soldotna in the past year, and several town halls hosted by the community organization Change 4 the Kenai in May 2016 drew more than a hundred people to talk about addiction openly.

However, some people have also expressed concern about the sober living homes in neighborhoods or near other community facilities. Richards said if someone in the hospital’s planned facility had an issue, the hospital would take care of it. But the fact that the people are seeking help is a sign that they are ready to deal with their addiction problems, he said.

“I think that alone is cause that shows that these are people trying to get better,” he sai.

When the borough’s Healthcare Task Force finalized its recommendations in 2016, one of the six focus areas it identified was for widespread substance abuse. The idea of a detox facility surfaced in September, about a month before the group finalized its recommendations, arising from input from public and private health care providers and social services around the peninsula.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre said the building is a good purchase for the borough and even if the program has to close down, it could be used for other services. With the state’s fiscal situation, the grants could be at risk, but Richards said that with national attention on the opioid addiction issue, he thought the state and federal government would maintain funding.

“I believe it’s going to get that sort of attention for some time into the future,” he told the assembly’s Finance Committee at its April 4 meeting. “As we all know, there has been a huge epidemic going on with the opioid crisis. It’s taken center-stage, even in Juneau in the middle of a budget deficit year.”

The assembly will consider the funding request at its April 18 meeting, which will take place in Seward.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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