Poplar Hill Camp eyed for live-in opioids rehab facility

As plans develop to transform the defunct Poplar Hill Pre-Release Unit into a live-in rehab center for those addicted to opioids and other drugs, Wicomico County Council members will tour the facility and, in weeks to come, meet with Clay Stamp, Executive Director of the Opioid Operational Command Center under Gov. Larry Hogan.

Council members accepted County Executive Bob Culver’s invitation to take the tour during Tuesday’s Council meeting, when Culver told them about plans to work with the state to open a rehab center at the state-owned Poplar Hill.

Culver estimated remodeling costs at $5 million to $7 million. Poplar Hill has a separate sewer system, but will need heat pumps and plumbing work, he said.

“The state has not said it wouldn’t help us. They have said they have money,” he said, adding he is asking nothing of the County Council except open mindedness. “I want you all to know where we are with this,” he said.

“The county would be the facilitator and make it happen. It would be run by a third party. After treatment, we need something so the people can hold their head up, go back into society and be proud of themselves. I am going to ask the county to help us offer jobs to some of these people … it can be anything from helping with roads to helping with the concession stand. We want to be able to give these people a fresh start while they stay at the facility for up to a year,” Culver said.

“It entails a lot,” Lori Brewster, Wicomico County Health Officer, told the Council.

“Right now, members of the county’s COAT team have to make multiple contacts with those trying not to go back to using drugs, and make sure they are clean and sober in the community, so 24-hour observation is necessary. Our COAT team members have to meet with them multiple times,” Brewster said. COAT is the acronym for Community Outreach Addictions Team.

As Weston Young, assistant director of administration for the county, showed a video of Poplar Hill, located off Nanticoke Road, Wayne Strausburg, director of administration, explained the facility would have a maximum of 60 beds. At first, there would be 20 beds for one gender, then another 20.

Strausburg said the final design hasn’t yet been completed.

Culver said he and staff have talked to officials in many counties on the Eastern Shore and all have expressed interest in participating “because we all have the same problem.” Wicomico is the only county in which overdose deaths has decreased instead of increased, “but at the same time, any death is too many,” Culver said.

He said he has worked with Stamp, who was unable to be at the council meeting this week, but agreed to attend a future meeting.

“One of the biggest goals the governor has had is to get more beds. There is money in the state. There is money in the federal government. We’ve gotten some interest already. We’re hoping to get more people who do have an interest. We have a local one, Hudson Center, that has shown an interest, too,” Culver said.

He was referring to the Willis W. Hudson Center on Harting Drive, which provides recovery tools to individuals and families affected by substance abuse.

Brewster said she wants the program to be voluntary, although the state could ask the county to house some clients. They could also be referred by COAT or another health care provider.

Council President John Cannon said he would want Wicomico County residents to have first priority. If the center was state owned, it could quickly become a state facility, he said. Culver said if a COAT team member identified someone “who is waiting to get clean,” a bed would be available.

“We’re going to simply work with the Shore. We’re not going to Baltimore,” Culver said.

Cannon said he’s concerned Wicomico County will become a clearing house. Culver said Stamp can better explain how it would be exclusively for Shore residents.

“That is the goal,” Brewster said.

Strausburg said the state would be looking at it as a test site, but the desire is for it to lead to four or five similar regional operations.

“There are a lot of details that need to be worked out and that is one of the details we will look at — how we are going to interact with our care provider, financing. How we’re going to acquire access to real estate is the first step,” Strausburg said.

“We are taking baby steps in this because we want to do it right,” Brewster said.

“I think everyone at this table can agree,” she said.

“We are meeting with the other jurisdiction health officers this Friday to get their input into this program and then we will be meeting with the other councils. One of the biggest items on this timeline is the development of a business plan, as well as the investment performer. We can’t move forward without those two items. We will be bringing this back to the council,” she said.

Last year, Culver and county officials “started going from community to community, fire hall to fire hall, to talk about these problems,” Culver said.

“Throughout all those meetings, we had a common theme brought to us, that there were not enough beds, not enough facilities, to treat the people who need to be treated,” Culver said.

He learned inmates won’t ever be moved back to Popular Hill, especially since the Justice Reinvestment Act of 2016 was passed. The act seeks to reduce Maryland’s prison population and use the savings to provide for more effective treatment to offenders, before, during, and after incarceration.

“So, we started talking about using it for longer care than seven or 28 days when these people who need help are kicked out and have to go back out on the streets,” Culver said.

Dodd asked if it the plan is for a glorified treatment center, and Brewster said it is not, that it would be a 24-hour facility to “prevent some of these overdoses that are costing our taxpayers millions of dollars in medical costs, judicial time.”

“I don’t see this as a country club,” she told Dodd.

“No, not at all,” he said. “Will this be where the user will have to use insurance or will this be free for all?”

Brewster said those with insurance will apply it and that there will be a reimbursement plan, but details haven’t yet been finalized.

Councilman Joe Holloway said a 24-hour treatment center is needed “but I think we really need to be cautious how we approach this … bringing people into the area that are not our own. A lot of people who go into these facilities want to be cured and a lot of them just go there to use this as a bridge to their next step, whatever they are doing,” Holloway said.

Councilman Marc Kilmer asked how many people want 24-hour treatment and Brewster said of 200 worked with in the past year, at least 50 percent expressed a desire.

“There is access to treatment but it is during business hours … Right now we don’t have access to put the individuals into treatment so we have to maintain contact with them over a long period of time until we can access a bed,” Brewster said.

Kilmer suggested an informational meeting in Quantico. “They are going to have concerns. Reach out to them and explain what’s going on,” Kilmer said and Culver agreed.


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