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Dartmouth-Hitchcock Funding Helps to Keep Claremont Recovery Center Open 



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, March 02, 2018

Claremont — City and community leaders have come together in recent weeks to find a way to continue services for people struggling with addiction that have been provided by Hope for New Hampshire Recovery’s Claremont center.

These efforts, which include a recent $20,000 contribution from Dartmouth-Hitchcock, come following the Manchester-based Hope’s announcement on Feb. 20 that it would close four centers, including Claremont’s, in order to consolidate operations in the Manchester center. The organization — which emphasizes what is known as peer recovery services — has struggled financially since last summer when a state contract ended.

“It is a resource that’s very important to have,” said Maggie Monroe-Cassel, executive director of the Claremont-based TLC Family Resource Center. “I feel very positive that the community will figure it out.”

Though Friday was the last day Hope paid salaries for the one full-time and one part-time staff member who operate the Claremont center, the bridge funding from D-H and an additional amount expected from Valley Regional Hospital should allow services to continue for a couple of months while community leaders sort out a longer-term solution.

Claremont’s Hope center, which sits at 169 Main St., is open five days a week, said Melissa Crews, Hope’s executive director. The Claremont center serves as a site for 14 meetings per week and provides telephone support to about 100 people, she said.

“It’s a place for the recovery community to organize and support one another,” Crews said. “Nobody gets it like somebody who’s been through it.”

In addition to serving as a location for meetings of support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, Hope centers are available for people to simply drop by, said Peter Mason, a retired primary care doctor from Lebanon who still provides addiction treatment.

“Hope for New Hampshire Recovery has been a wonderful resource for my patients,” he said.

There is no other group on the New Hampshire side of the Upper Valley providing the same service, he said, though Upper Valley Turning Point in Wilder offers similar services on the Vermont side.

Though Claremont Mayor Charlene Lovett said leaders of all levels of government now recognize the seriousness of the opioid epidemic — drug overdoses took 485 lives in New Hampshire in 2016 — “recognition is not going to change the landscape.”

Instead, she said, “It’s about leveraging resources.”

Lovett said the Claremont center’s annual operating budget is about $105,000, including salaries and the cost of renting the space.

For the near term, the building’s owners — Crews and her husband, Andy — are willing to forgo charging rent. The couple bought the building in 2016, “so that Hope would have a home when we opened the center,” she said.

While the community sorts out the next steps, including where the services will be provided and under what kind of organizational structure, Claremont Hope director Wayne Miller and his staff and volunteers “can of course stay there,” Crews said.

The support people find at Hope helps keep them out of the hospital, said Valley Regional CEO Peter Wright.

Should Hope’s services no longer be available, Wright said he worried that his hospital’s emergency department could see a spike in demand for mental and behavioral health issues.

Given the need for substance use treatment in Claremont and beyond, Wright said it’s important to secure and expand existing services, not close them.

Expansion of addiction treatment services is underway in the city. In conjunction with Miller, TLC is starting a support group for parents in treatment for addiction later this month, Monroe-Cassel said. Because funding for that group is already in hand, it will continue regardless of Hope’s fate, she said.

West Central Behavioral Health is poised to open a small outpatient clinic in Claremont to treat people with substance use disorders later this month, said Suellen Griffin, West Central’s CEO. And Griffin, who has not yet been involved in discussions about Hope’s future, said she had met with Miller before Hope announced it would close the Claremont location. She had hoped to partner with Hope in providing treatment in Claremont “so we could refer our patients to them,” she said.

Though Crews said she has confidence in the Claremont community’s ability to find a path forward, she said she is not sure what will become of the Franklin, Berlin and Concord sites that the organization has decided to close. The Manchester center is the sole location Hope officials have said they will continue to operate.

“We’re still confident that we’ll work out some kind of agreement with the state to save some of them,” she said.

Michelle Parenteau, a Newport resident who is in recovery, worked at the Claremont Hope center in 2016. Though she agrees that peer support services are needed in Sullivan County, she said that they ought to be provided by a group other than Hope.

“I get it we need places,” Parenteau said. But, “There is more to why these places are closing.”

Parenteau alleges that while she was working at Hope she was encouraged to become a certified recovery support worker. Within two weeks of beginning the job, Parenteau said, her supervisor at the time filed paperwork saying she had completed 500 hours of supervised work.

Crews did not respond to an email seeking response to Parenteau’s allegations by deadline on Friday.

In a story produced by NHPR in June, Hope’s Board Chairman Scott Bickford declined to respond to allegations from employees, including Parenteau, because employee complaints are confidential. But he told NHPR that the board is “treating these matters with the seriousness that they deserve.”

The Executive Council approved two contracts totaling $600,000 for Hope in October 2016. But, NHPR’s story containing the employee allegations broke before the contracts ended June 30, 2017. It has not been renewed.

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office investigated the organization, at the request of Gov. Chris Sununu, and found no criminal activity, according to the Concord Monitor.

The Department of Health and Human Services currently is conducting an audit of its contracts with substance use disorder treatment providers, including Hope, DHHS spokesman Jake Leon said in an email. Leon said he wasn’t sure when Hope’s audit would be complete.

In addition to local funding from D-H and Valley Regional, Wright said Claremont providers and city officials will also look to Concord for assistance.

The Claremont group will also look to see whether the peer support services could be provided in a way that would make them reimbursable by health insurance, he said.

“Everybody’s doing whatever they can within their scope of authority to make it work,” he said.

It’s possible that Claremont’s model, once developed, could help other communities shape their own programs. Hope had a peer-support center in Newport in space rented from the Epiphany Church until last summer, said the Rev. Jay MacLeod, who leads the church.

“There was a lot of hope raised,” MacLeod said. “Some of that initially was realized, but the departure was unfortunate and quick.”

Learning of the Claremont community’s efforts to keep services going despite Hope’s departure, MacLeod said, “That’s what we should have done in Newport.”

Valley News Staff Writer Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

Correction

Wayne Miller has been the director of the Hope for New Hampshire Recovery’s Claremont center. An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect last name.