The shuttered Broome Developmental Center has drawn significant community interest as a possible place for more addiction treatment and related services. But the kind of treatment facility may be a sticking point.
In a region desperate for more treatment options, having this site seems like a rare opportunity: there are over one hundred beds, a gym, a cafeteria, access to public buses, and other amenities.
The state closed BDC, previously a home for people with developmental disabilities, in 2016. People have been talking about the addiction treatment possibility since then.
At a community meeting at the Broome Public Library back in May, there were a lot of residents like Kim Dempsey of Binghamton. Dempsey’s son is recovering from heroin addiction. She said treatment access in the area is getting better in small bits, but said any new facility needs to go big.
“If you leave out any one piece, the whole thing can fail,” she said. “You can have an addict go through detox; you can have them go through a short term, long term; you can get all the way to the end, and if the sober house fails, the whole thing fails.”
Residents gave County Executive Jason Garnar and other officials a long list of requirements. One prominent idea was to have a place that will accept people without regard for their ability to pay.
The state owns Broome Developmental Center and a Local Governmental Unit – like a county – would need to give its “okay” to any new treatment operation. And Garnar’s in. But he said there’s only so much the County can do.
“The providers that we’ve talked to are asking for no money from us,” he said after the May meeting. “I told them – I was very upfront with them – we don’t have any money. There’s no money in Broome County.”
In a later interview, Garnar said there is, indeed, a treatment provider working on an application for the Broome Developmental Center site. He said many of the services people want will be part of the effort. (Then, at a presentation this month, he again characterized the County’s financial situation as insecure.)
But could the community come up with its own plan?
“We need to have a provider that’s willing to provide those services,” he said. “We can’t just come up with a provider out of thin air.”
This kind of talk doesn’t sit well with Alexis Pleus. She’s the founder of the advocacy group TruthPHARM. She said because Broome Developmental is such an ideal site, this is not an opportunity to waste.
“My fear is that they’re just going to take whoever walks in the door and says ‘we wanna do this and we don’t need your tax dollars,'” she said. “That’s the worst thing for us to do. We really need to put together a comprehensive Request for Proposals – by the County – with a list of criteria of what we expect to see in that facility.”
If a provider isn’t relying on any public money, she said, they’ll over-rely on patients with private insurance that might pay more.
It’s not clear how much influence a county or a community can have over what a treatment center eventually looks like.
WSKG asked the state’s Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services multiple times for an interview about the process, but got no response.
Alan Wilmarth of United Health Services (UHS) runs that system’s addiction services. If the County issued its own Request for Proposals, UHS would take a look, he said, but there would have to be money behind it.
“It all comes down to, if you’re gonna put out a Request for Proposals, there has to be some mechanism to pay for the service once the proposals are in,” he said.
Wilmarth said the area especially needs more medication-assisted treatment.
Even though there may be some tension about how this all might unfurl, the fact that providers, the community, and political leadership all want to do something is the most important thing, according to John Coppola. Coppola is head of the Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers of New York State, a trade group for providers.
Coppola thinks state regulators are willing to work with people looking to act.
“I, frankly, would want to go to a meeting [in] the Southern Tier if I could go there and talk to a bunch of people that are ready to rock and roll,” he said, “As opposed to some other place where people don’t quite have their act together yet.”
That bodes well, he said, for getting addiction treatment at Broome Developmental Center.