In a 4 to 2 vote, the Ellwood City Borough Council approved Freedom Health Care Services, a drug and alcohol addiction clinic, to be located on 773 Pershing St.
About a dozen visitors arrived to protest the clinic, focusing their opposition on the location, which is near a residential area and a bus stop.
Hunter Farmer, the owner of Freedom Health Care Services, spoke to explain the purpose of the clinic. Freedom Health Care is a counseling service for those with drug and alcohol addiction problems. It has one office in Bridgeville.
The clinic has normal, Monday through Friday, morning and afternoon business hours. Patients are voluntary and must pass a screening to determine they are appropriate for the services.
Farmer said the counseling is not “talking about how their childhood problems caused them to do drugs,” but is rather active rehab identifying areas of patients’ life that need strengthened, such as work, family, or physical health.
The clinic does not provide any drugs, but does have doctors who may write prescriptions. The only drug patients may receive is an initial dose of buprenorphine, better known as suboxone, which is used to treat opioid withdrawal.
Farmer said the dose is given to see if a patient will have a negative reaction to the medication. It is a dissoluble film placed under the tongue, so there is no way it can be sneaked out.
Farmer said the Bridgeville office has about 100 patients a week, with about 20 a day. He believes Ellwood will have a smaller amount since it is serving a less populated area. More information on Freedom Health Care Services can be found here.
Also speaking on behalf of the clinic was Rebecca Abramson, executive director of Lawrence County Drug and Alcohol Commission. She said the LCDAC identified Ellwood City as an area in need of such a clinic due to residents in the Ellwood area have difficulty attending counseling sessions at a clinic in New Castle.
Carolyn Izzo, CEO and president of the Ellwood City hospital, explained that the hospital was involved in selecting Freedom Health Care Services, one of several companies that answered the bid. She also felt the counseling clinic will be a valuable asset in Ellwood’s fight against drugs.
Because the hospital lacked the facilities to accommodate the clinic, the hospital and Freedom Health Care Services chose 773 Pershing St., a former orthopedic doctor’s office. The building was zoned for a medical business.
Despite this, visitors were not assuaged. Lou Gatto said, “I support a treatment site. I believe that anybody that is addicted should have a place to seek help. But not there.”
Overwhelmingly, the major concern was that the clinic’s patients would pose trouble for residents and school children at the bus stop. Farmer said that addicts “don’t live under bridges” and that many are people who become addicted to painkillers. He also suggested the bus stop could be moved, which was not well-received.
Visitor Lori Garvin asked if the the building could be used for this purpose. She also had fears that it would depreciate property values. Borough solicitor Edward Leymarie answered that the building is properly zoned and that council is merely voting on the conditional use of the building.
Leymarie also told the visitors, “We’ve having this discussion to give information. We had a public hearing on this matter last week and nobody came.”
Visitor Dave McKim asked Farmer if the clinic had security. Farmer responded that his Bridgeville office never needed it, to which McKim replied, “But if you need it, it’ll be too late.”
“Children at the bus stop are going to see people walk in there and think ‘oh I can do drugs and just go to rehab,’” McKim said.
Visitor Dom Salvucci also said he supports a clinic but not the location. In addition, he expressed concern about there being sufficient parking.
Following this, the council meeting proceeded. When it came time to vote on the motion, council member Marilyn Mancini proposed to table the motion until all council members were present, as John Todorich was absent. Michele Lamenza seconded the motion. However, the other four members voted no.
Thus, the original motion to approve the clinic came to vote. Mancini and Lamenza voted no. Connie MacDonald, Ralph Chiappetta, Brad Ovial and David DeCaria voted yes.
“I cannot in good conscience voted yes on this without more information,” Lamenza said.
Later, MacDonald said he voted yes because of the Lawrence County Drug and Alcohol Commission’s analysis and Freedom Health Care’s selection of the building to suit its needs. In response to fears that the client traffic will be a bad influence, MacDonald said, “I don’t think it’ll be much different than when an orthopedic doctor was there.”
Council president Brad Ovial said that had council refused Freedom Health Care Services, the borough could be sued, and inevitably lose, for denying a needed health care service in a building zoned for that use.
“Even if Freedom Health Care Services didn’t pursue, another company, such as a methadone clinic, could try to move in and ultimately win,” Ovial said.
He also said that the background work had already been done by the hospital, Lawrence County Drug and Alcohol, and the Ellwood City Planning Committee.
“The vote at this point was more of a formality and hopefully the fears people may have won’t be realized,” Ovial said.