NEW HANOVER COUNTY — At their Monday morning meeting, County Commissioners criticized Trillium Health Resources, which has a deal with the county to develop a substance abuse treatment center on Medical Center Drive, for its decision to contract operations of the clinic to The Healing Place, a Louisville-based company.
County officials said they were under the impression that Trillium would enlist local non-profit Coastal Horizons to run the treatment center. When Trillium obtained a special use permit for the project in Jan. 2019, there was an understanding that Coastal Horizons would run the center, according to County Manager Chris Coudriet. Trillium manages care in a 26-county region and oversees disbursement of several funding streams, including state and state-allocated federal funds.
Commissioner Jonathan Barfield called the maneuver by Trillium a “bait and switch,” and said Coastal Horizons had been “pimped or prostituted” so that Trillium could procure the special use permit. Barfield said he believed the city wouldn’t have approved Trillium’s permit application without the involvement of Coastal Horizons.
“The whole process has lacked integrity, honesty and this is what we have been saying all along,” Coastal Horizons CEO Margaret Weller-Stargell said. “We know the needs of this community. Those in Louisville, Kentucky don’t know the needs of this community.”
Commissioner Rob Zapple said Trillium’s move away from Coastal Horizons was motivated in part by a philosophical difference in treatment strategies. Weller said that The Healing Place will be grounded in abstinence treatment, whereas Coastal Horizons has been painted as a medically assisted treatment center. Medication-assisted treatment only accounts for 12 percent of Coastal Horizon’s operations, Weller-Stargell said.
“We have a disproportionate amount of patients in this community who have an opioid addiction, so to ignore that as being a need for any treatment facility that goes forward is a huge flaw and error in the process,” Weller-Stargell said. “Perhaps they don’t need it in Louisville, KY. Perhaps alcohol is a greater issue in that community. In our community, opioid addiction is a huge issue, and we must be able to address that.”
Chairwoman of the Trillium Governing Council Mary Ann Furniss declined to comment, but a spokesperson issued the following statement:
From the first conversation that Trillium and New Hanover County leadership had about creating a long-term recovery program for people dealing with substance use disorders, we discussed replicating The Healing Place model. The Healing Place reports about 75% of alumni still in recovery one year after completing their program, as compared to the national average of around 50%. This unique social model recovery program has proven extraordinary success in helping people achieve recovery from substance use disorders for more than 40 years. We value our partnership with Coastal Horizons and have contracts with them to provide many services for members across our region. While they were among the potential providers to replicate The Healing Place model at the site on Medical Center Drive, Trillium is pleased that The Healing Place of Louisville, KY, the original developer of this highly successful model, has agreed to directly operate the new facility.
After discussion, the County Commission voted to move forward with the plan to put a treatment center on Medical Center Drive, with The Healing Place as the operator, rather than Coastal Horizons. The vote was 4-1, with Barfield dissenting.
After the meeting, Zapple said that while he hoped a compromise could have been reached, he was confident there would be ample future opportunities for Coastal Horizons to continue its work in the community, especially on the opioid epidemic, which Zapple said “is not going anyway anytime soon.”