Poplar Hill drug treatment center dead for now

Plans to transform the former Poplar Hill Pre-Release Unit into a detoxification center have stopped, after the service provider that was interested, Connections Community Support Programs, officially withdrew.

“They were our only official bidder, although there have been about a half-a-dozen that showed interest,” Assistant County Administrator Weston Young told the Salisbury Independent late Tuesday.

“Without a second provider to bring on board in a timely manner, we cannot accept the state grant,” he said.

In January, Wicomico County received a state commitment for nearly $1 million to begin renovating the former male-only facility in Quantico and transforming it into a co-ed, live-in detoxification and recovery center for those addicted to opioids and other drugs.

Hopes were to begin with 20 beds and expand to about 60.

“We are regrouping and will see if we can get something rolling for fiscal year 2020 and state monies then,” Young said.

While County Executive Bob Culver has desperately tried to help his county Health Department team — who are seeking aggressive ways to stem the county’s opioid crisis — the Wicomico County Council had been publicly skeptical from the outset.

Rather than being treated as an urgent health care initiative, the proposal was treading toward a political albatross.

Last month, Young addressed the council on the entire Poplar Hill proposal, and he was joined by high-ranking state officials who sought to address council members’ concerns.

After discussion, council members decided to table the matter until the public could comment. Council President John Cannon at first appeared to schedule a public hearing on the matter, but then converted the follow-up meeting to a work session that would have occurred Tuesday night.

That encounter was scuttled when Culver informed the council that Connections had bailed from the project.

Young said after the meeting that Connections — which operates a treatment center in Seaford — emailed county officials, saying, “After considering the enormity of the project and our current resources at Connections, we would like to withdraw from consideration.”

Plans had included considerable renovation to the decades-old Division of Correction pre-release center.

There is only one set of showers, for men only. Plumbing has to be upgraded and the building air conditioned.

The county planned to apply for additional funds, including USDA Rural Development funds.

The intention was for the county to lease the property from the state, then state and federal dollars would be used to fund all renovations.

Under the proposal, the county would not have been responsible for operational cash.

“Our mission is to provide 24-hour detox, drug withdrawal management, and then residential treatment and residential recovery housing for the Eastern Shore,” Young had told the council.

Culver initiated the idea and first told the council about it in July last year, assuring them no local money would be requested.

“What we’re trying to offer here isn’t currently offered. We need that 24-7 facility so that when a person makes up their mind, we can get them there within minutes,” Young had said, adding the program will be in conjunction with the county’s Community Outreach Addictions Team, or COAT.

The state will continue its ownership and management of the Poplar Hill site. The Maryland General Assembly, meanwhile, has called on state prison officials to create two new pre-release centers for female inmates in the state.

With the treatment center’s derailment, speculation is that Poplar Hill will move to the top of the list as a likely site for those inmates.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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