Union Hospital Considers Short-Term Drug Abuser Detox Program; Cecil County Council Seeks Support

December 16, 2014

Union Hospital of Cecil County is considering establishing a new short-term, drug abuser detoxification program, according to members of the Cecil County Council. It could be the first and only program of its kind in the county, which is on track for a record number of drug overdose deaths this year.

Representatives of the hospital, located in Elkton, first broached the concept—which is still in its planning infancy—during a meeting with members of the state legislative delegation last week. A Union Hospital program could be a competitor for a newly proposed private profit-making rehab hospital in Earleville, which has a pending request before the County Council to amend the water master plan to allow a 150-bed facility providing a 30-day program in the rural area.

Cecil County Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) said at a Tuesday 12/15/14 Council worksession that the local Union Hospital—a 122-bed general hospital that has served the county for more than a century—was considering creation of a five to seven day “in-patient” drug detoxification program.

“They’re still investigating what that program would be,” Hodge said, but the hospital is “seriously considering” such an initiative. The hospital “sees a need” for such services, he added, although hospital officials have so far provided few details of what their program might encompass. But Hodge pledged that county officials would “engage Union Hospital to move their project forward.”

Cecil Times contacted the office of Dr. Ken Lewis, president of the hospital, for comment but had not received a response by late Tuesday.

[UPDATE: Kathryn McKinney, Union Hospital’s director of public relations and marketing, told Cecil Times on Wednesday that “it’s premature to discuss” specifics of the hospital’s plans because they are still being developed. But she said that an “in-patient, hospital-based” program is not now being considered and instead the focus is on a “community-based” program that would be affiliated with but not based at the hospital itself. She said the hospital hopes to be ready to announce its plans in mid-January.]

Currently, Cecil County residents seeking drug detoxification can seek private—and costly— residential treatment outside the county or get on a waiting list for what is essentially free in-patient care at the state-operated Whitsitt Center in Chestertown (in nearby Kent County). But the state cut back the number of beds at that facility several years ago and, until recently, there was a six to eight week waiting list for admission.

But with the implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act that mandates equal insurance coverage for drug treatment, patients with insurance are increasingly opting for private facilities and the waiting list at Whitsitt was recently down to about two weeks, according to Cecil County Health Department officials.

The Whitsitt Center program requires a patient to commit to a 21-day inpatient stay—a timeframe that makes it difficult for Cecil County residents to hold on to jobs and retain ties with their families, according to Jennifer Turk, a leader of the “Voices of Hope” drug and alcohol recovery and advocacy group that is aligned with the county Health Department and holds meetings at the agency’s offices in Elkton.

Turk addressed the County Council at its Tuesday worksession and when Hodge inquired if her group had met with Union Hospital officials, she said no but that members had “heard” there might be such plans under discussion.

Turk urged the County Council to take a more “proactive” role in advocating for a local detoxification facility and if Union Hospital is “on the fence” about offering such services, the Council should pressure the facility to do so.

County Councilor Dan Schneckenburger (R-3) inquired if there was any substantive research to show whether a brief five to seven day medical detox program was more or less successful than the 21-day intensive detox and follow-up treatment offered by facilities such as Whitsitt. No one at the meeting had an answer for him.

Turk said her volunteer group is an “abstinence-based” program and does not advocate medication-assisted services after initial detoxification. Two privately-owned clinics in Elkton offer methadone and similar longer-term treatment services. The county health department also offers a medication-aided treatment program for drug addicts.

The recent move by the non-profit Union Hospital to consider getting into a formal drug detox program comes at a time when a private profit-making business is looking to develop a major in-patient drug facility in Cecil County.

The Voices group, and members of the county’s official Drug and Alcohol Abuse Council, recently expressed support for a private rehab hospital, to be located in rural Earleville by a Philadelphia real estate developer whose proposed 150-bed facility would cater to non-local patients paying up to $30,000 for a month-long detox and treatment program.

The proposed Recovery Centers of America project, part of a for-profit, start-up business national chain of drug and alcohol rehab hospitals, recently won Cecil County zoning approval to locate its hospital in a protected agricultural zone (SAR). The County Council is currently considering whether to amend the county water and sewer plan to accommodate the facility in rural Earleville. The majority owner of RCA, J. Brian O’Neill, has no experience in operating such facilities.

The discussions come at a time when the most recently available state data show that Cecil County has had 20 drug overdose deaths during the first six months of the year and is on track for a record number of drug overdose fatalities, especially from heroin.

[SEE exclusive CECIL TIMES Special Report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2014/12/cecil-county-drug-deaths-rise-again-new-stats-show-county-advances-private-rehab-hospital-aimed-at-non-local-patients/ ]

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One Response to Union Hospital Considers Short-Term Drug Abuser Detox Program; Cecil County Council Seeks Support

  1. tina sharp on December 17, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    My hubs asks good questions.

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