Park Heights to be site of long-term rehab center

160-bed treatment facility set to open next year welcomed by community

March 08, 2004|By Reginald Fields | Reginald Fields,SUN STAFF

A 160-bed residential drug treatment facility, the largest in the state, is going to be built in Northwest Baltimore, the sixth such center in the last five years for a city beset with drug addiction.

The facility will be built on a vacant lot on Doll Avenue, a short street off Woodland Avenue in Park Heights, and will open in July next year. Groundbreaking is scheduled for today.

It will be the second Maryland location for Gaudenzia, which in 2002 opened a 135-bed drug treatment facility in the 4600 block of Park Heights Ave. The new building will have 120 beds, but is being built to hold up to 160.

"We knew when we opened the first site that we were going to fill up very quickly, and we have," said Gale Saler, executive director of Gaudenzia of Maryland. "There is a demand out there for more beds."

Gaudenzia is a Norristown, Pa.-based firm that treats drug addiction and offers counseling and other resources for consequences of drug abuse, such as homelessness and unemployment.

City health officials say most people seeking help for drug addiction are turned away because there aren't enough slots available.

"With this new building, we will have basically tripled capacity in long-term treatment facilities in the city in the last four years, and it is still not enough," said Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, city health commissioner.

There are an estimated 50,000 drug-addicted people in Baltimore, according to the Health Department.

Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems Inc., an extension of the Health Department, reports receiving 50 calls a day from people seeking help, but can take only 40 percent of them into treatment programs because of space limitations.

There is a three-month waiting list for spots in residential treatment centers such as Gaudenzia.

The new facility is being welcomed by its Park Heights neighbors, people who know their quality of life suffers because of the area's high incidence of drug activity, HIV, poverty and blight.

Gaudenzia and the city created a neighborhood panel to assist with the design of the two-story facility. They wanted to avoid constructing an institutional-looking building in the residential area, and to include features, such as a community room, that neighbors could use.

"We chose that area because of the grassroots efforts from neighborhood groups concerned," said Beilenson. "And, yes, obviously that area of town has a significant substance abuse problem."

While Gaudenzia primarily offers short-term and outpatient services at its current location, Saler said the new facility will be almost exclusively for long-term patients - those staying between three and nine months.

The $3.5 million building is being paid for by the Abell and Weinberg foundations, and other private funds. Services at the facility will paid for by the city. A private owner is donating the land.

For the past several years, the city has tried to shake a national perception of being an addicted city - in some circles referred to as the "Heroin Capital" - by doing more to lessen the demand for drugs.

One of Mayor Martin O'Malley's signature programs is the BELIEVE campaign, a commitment to ending drug addiction by offering more counselors and resources for addicts.

The facility will join three residential programs, two methadone clinics and one outpatient office as the sixth treatment office added to the city since the mayor took office in 1999. Before him, a new drug treatment center hadn't opened in the city in the previous three decades.

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