Sunday, November 11, 2007

Middletown, a mental-health services ghetto

It's an often cited regret that with the closing of many of the major mental-health treatment centers in the state during the Reagan administration, and the concentration of those services in Middletown at Connecticut Valley Hospital, the city has become something of a magnet for satellite programs, alternative treatment centers, substance-abuse facilities, halfway houses and supportive housing.

Middletown can say with confidence that we have done more than our share in having facilities like this open in our town.

I believe that these services and these facilities are vital. We need to offer our neighbors who suffer from mental health issues places to be treated. I have friends who receive treatment under such conditions, and I know if someone in my family needed treatment, I'd want this kind of facility available. And Middletown has lots of them.

However, I firmly believe that the concentration of these facilities in one town, and in a few neighborhoods in any one town, is neither good for the neighborhoods, the town, nor the clients being treated there.

These centers are designed to help the people being treated and housed there, and living in a neighborhood with two, three or more of these facilities is not exactly 'mainstreaming."

The other side of the coin, of course, is that wealthy, suburban towns fight successfully to keep these kind of mental health facilities out. In one recent case, Old Saybrook community members have fought viciously to prevent a residental home for teens from opening.

The exact number of these facilities in Middletown is not easily determined since they aren't identified as such in any one location in city records. As well, state law rightfully prohibits discrimination against such facilities. As a result, within five blocks of my house, I count at least a half a dozen housing units which are halfway houses, transitional housing, group homes, subsidized housing or supportive housing. It's no exaggeration to say there are dozens of these kind of facilities in Middletown. Mental health organizations find it is easier to open these facilties in towns like Middletown, which has had an open-door policy, then they do in suburban towns which would prefer that urban areas shoulder the burden.

And now Rushford wants to add one more. Worse still, they reportedly want to close an identical substance abuse treatment center in Portland, and open it here in Middletown at 210
South Main Street. Rushford has treatment locations in Middletown, Meriden, Portland, Branford and Glastonbury. Rushford is affiliated with Hartford Hospital, and any doubt about welcoming them to Middletown does not reflect on the quality or level of their care or their facilities. It's all about the current concentration of such facilities in town already.

AWARE member, and member of the town Economic Development Commission, Shannon Brown is encouraging neighbors and residents to oppose this new substance abuse treatment center until other towns, which are not already overburdened, begin to consider opening facilities like these..

In the case of the new Rushford center at 210 South Main, they must receive a zoning change to open the center. This is a legitimate way for residents to oppose the opening of the substance abuse treatment center. Rushford can't open the center without that change. The Planning and Zoning Commission will decide on the zoning change at their next meeting on November 14 at 7PM.

I'm with Shannon on this one. Middletown needs to draw a line in the sand. We don't need yet another substance abuse treatment center in Middletown, and until other towns step up and begin to host such facilities, I think we can honestly say that Middletown has done its share.

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