Sunday, July 14, 2024

Healing Place treatment center neighbors file lawsuit over security concerns, commissioner calls move ‘selfish’

View from a room at Lower Caper Fear Hospice. The fence, visible on the right, is the property of the future The Healing Place. (Port City Daily photo / Benjamin Schachtman)
View from a room at Lower Caper Fear Hospice. The fence, visible on the right, is the property of the future The Healing Place. (Port City Daily photo / Benjamin Schachtman)

The Healing Place is a planned drug detox, treatment facility and shelter to help Wilmington and the region through the opioid crisis

WILMINGTON — Two medical facilities have brought litigation against the City of Wilmington, City Council, New Hanover County, IS Design, and Trillium Health Resources after an approval granting a special use permit to construct a treatment center for people suffering from addiction was granted by City Council.

Related: Rock and a hard place: Getting to the bottom of concerns over The Healing Place treatment center

The Healing Place is a project proposed by New Hanover County and Trillium, the entity responsible for managing state and federal funds for mental health and substance abuse issues in a 26-county area.

Since the zoning district does not currently allow residential uses, the special use permit was required if the county were to move forward with the plans.

Despite the concerns and hours worth of public hearings and public input council ultimately approved the request but the vote on approving the special use permit was not a rash decision. In fact, City Council delayed the vote for several months multiple times in order to further research and hear concerns from opponents.

While there is little argument that the region needs facilities to help handle the opioid crisis, the location of the planned project was drawn into question along with how it will operate.

Concerns from neighboring businesses

The Lower Cape Fear Hospice, Delaney Radiology, and the Children’s Learning Center of New Hanover Health Network all expressed their concerns with the location. Complaints were mostly due to the proximity to their own businesses and the actual model of The Healing Place, which lacks professional security and allows the coming and going of residents.

“A shared concern for the potential future neighbors of The Healing Place is security. According to LCFH CEO and President Gwen Whitley, as well as an email circulated by CLC to parents, this concern comes from a variety of factors: the proposed ‘wet’ shelter, the open-door policy without background checks, and the ‘peer security’ set-up,” according to previous reporting from Port City Daily

So what does all this mean?

A so-called “wet shelter” is one that does not turn people away for being intoxicated or high. As far as the open-door policy, well that means residents are free to come and go as they please — unlike many residential treatment facilities that are “closed-door” facilities.

And for the peer security set-up, that means residents who have completed “higher levels of the program” will act as security and will be overseen by administrative staff.

In the lawsuit, the petitioners claim the only other residential facility Trillium operates has seen nearly 200 arrests due to “crimes committed by the people who live at and use the facility.”

But according to a spokesperson from Healing Transitions, Trillium does not “operate” Healing Transitions, instead, it contracts 34 beds between the men’s and women’s campus.

Also, Healing Transitions argues the number of arrests listed in the lawsuit is incorrect.

According to a statement, “The correct arrest figures for 2018, as reported by the Raleigh Police Department and the City-County Bureau of Identification (CCBI), are as follows:

  • In 2018, the actual number of arrests at the men’s campus of Healing Transitions was 16 instead of the 172 erroneously reported by the Petition and reflected by the subsequent media articles.
  • Of the 16 arrests that occurred in 2018, only 2 arrests were the result of an incident that occurred on the men’s campus. The other arrests were the results of charges that occurred before the individual resided at Healing Transitions.”

 Neighboring daycare center, The Children’s Learning Center, while not a petitioner on the lawsuit is mentioned in the litigation. According to the petitioners, the daycare center cares for children up to five-years-old and the approval of the application would seriously damage the business claiming that more than half of the parents that use the facility would withdraw their children if the treatment center were approved.

This removal of children would, according to Anthony Stroud, one of the owners of the Children’s Learning Center, “put the Children’s Learning Center out of business,” the lawsuit claims.

According to the request, there is no question that the population would damage the property of petitioner Delaney.

“Petitioner Delaney will also suffer trespass, littering, and vandalism to its property by the attraction of the increased homeless population the group home residential will serve,” according to the request.

The hospice representatives made similar statements in the request and also voiced concerns that the “group home/detox population” puts an increased risk that the hospice facility will be looted or robbed for medications.

Delay in progress

On March 29, Delaney at MCD LLC and Lower Cape Fear Hospice filed a petition for a Writ of Certiorari and judicial review.

A Writ of Certiorari essentially means a higher court must review the decision of a lower court, or in this case, the decision of City Council and the issuance of the special use permit.

But just because the lawsuit has been filed does not mean efforts to proceed with the facility are slowing down.

On Monday, County Manager Chris Coudriet answered questions from county commissioners regarding the litigation and potential delays.

“It has not slowed down or interrupted Trillium’s efforts to continue to get final design and estimated maximum price … how long it will take in the court system I don’t know,” he said.

County Attorney Wanda Copley said she expects whichever party is on the losing side after the judgment from Superior Court will take the issue to the court of appeals where it will go through more review.

All of this could take several years before resolution is reached.

So what are the actual requests of the petitioners? The first is a request for the court to issue a Writ of Certiorari (this has already been granted), next, the petitioners are asking the courts to vacate the decision of City Council to grant the special use permit.

Perhaps one of the more timely issues is the request to stay the decision approving the application as well as any actions by the respondents to begin construction. If the stay of the application were not granted construction could commence while the courts decide on the issue.

Commissioners react

County Commissioners did not mince words when expressing their frustrations with the lawsuit.

County Chairman Jonathan Barfield voiced his frustrations with the parties opposing Healing Place.

“It disappoints me that the folks who are suing the county or suing Trillium don’t fully appreciate the fact that people in their community are dying every day because of their opioid epidemic. And because of what they don’t want in their backyard, they are willing to let other people die as well to get what they want,” he said. “The longer this goes on the more lives that will be lost in our community, and I just say ‘shame on them, for every life that’s lost’ because of their – what I would deem – selfishness.”

(Note: Lower Cape Fear Hospice responded but had no comment at the present time concerning its role in the lawsuit.)

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