Tuesday, August 9, 2022

‘Save the Harbor’ group holding weekend events, petition reaches 16,000 signatures [Free]

Rehab beds at The Harbor, the region’s only state-funded detox facility. (Port City Daily photo / File)

WILMINGTON — In less than a month, The Harbor crisis and detox facility in Wilmington will close. While talks are reportedly underway to help the facility find a new home, for now, the region is facing the loss of a critical tool in dealing with mental health and substance abuse.

Related: ‘The Harbor’ detox facility closing down after New Hanover County conveys property to NHRMC (WECT)

The local ‘Save the Harbor‘ group is working to draw public awareness to the importance of The Harbor — and its current plight. A petition to ask local leaders to help keep The Harbor open has already reached nearly 16,000 signatures.

Save the Harbor is also holding community engagement events on Saturday and Sunday this week. On both days the group will be set up on the sidewalk by Trader Joe’s at the intersection of College Road and Oleander Drive from noon to 2 p.m.

The Harbor is the region’s only state-funded detox and crisis center, meaning for the uninsured and under-insured, it’s their only option. The Harbor isn’t the only detox option in the area — there are private facilities and NHRMC’s emergency room — but it is the only place with staff trained specifically to handle withdrawal and intersecting behavioral health issues.

This detox is a crucial step in the treatment process, but it’s sometimes overlooked in public discussions. Conversations about the struggle against substance abuse are often informed by ‘Intervention’-style TV shows, which jump from the decision to get treatment to a recovery facility (often in a bucolic or ocean-side setting) — and elide the painful and sometimes dangerous withdrawal and detox process.

While the Wilmington-area has a number of affordable and state-funded or state-subsidized treatment options, for many lower-income patients, the Harbor’s 16 beds are the only way to get to one of the facilities.

The problem? For years The Harbor sat on New Hanover County property, but the parcel was sold to NHRMC in 2017 and the property was conveyed to the hospital earlier this year. The hospital has since granted RHA Behavior Health, which operates the facility, two extensions and offered a third, but the long-term future of the location can’t be guaranteed.

There were also issues with funding from Trillium, the managed care organization that disburses state and federal funding in 26 counties across eastern and coastal North Carolina. According to Trillium, the new Standard Plans for Medicaid, which will go into effect at the beginning of the next fiscal year (July 1, 2021), means “Trillium will no longer be the primary or sole funder for these types of services.”

According to Trillium, “RHA made the decision that the funding picture was too uncertain to commit to the long-term lease and capital expenditures necessary to relocate the service to a different physical location.”

RHA’s local director said he was unable to answer questions but offered to forward them to the state-level RHA offices on August 28; there’s been no response to follow-up emails since then. There’s been no official agreement reached, but local officials have signaled they are eager to find a workaround to keep The Harbor, or another facility offering state-funded detox and crisis services, open in the Wilmington area.

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