BATAVIA — It was built in the past year and is scheduled to be open Monday, but the Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse (GCASA) cut the ribbon today on a new, two-story, 20-bed detox center on the agency’s East Main Street campus.
The 8,600-square foot facility will enable local residents in need to stay close to home for their substance abuse treatment. The detox center is part of an organization which seeks to improve community health reduce the stigma toward people with addictions and work for positive community change, according to GCASA’s mission.
Before the ribbon-cutting, people took turns saying a few words. GCASA Executive Director John Bennett acknowledged the staff who will be working at the detox center, including Medical Director Dr. Matthew Fernaays; Chief Clinical Officer Kathy Hodgins; Director of Residential Services Allison Parry-Gurak; Physician’s Assistant Randi Johnson, who will oversee the detox center program; Stephanie Nadolinski, operations manager for all GCASA’s residential services; and Clinical Supervisor Matt Martin.
“I just want the community and all the staff who are going to be working here to know that everything you do, every person who walks through this front door, you will impact their life,” he said. “GCASA has some of the kindest, most compassionate and dedicated people working here and I know that this building is going to be a building of hope. It’s a wonderful place for people to start their recovery ... hopefully, a place where people can break the cycle of addiction for themselves and their families, and start the beginning of their recovery.”
Bennett said GCASA wanted the detox center to feel “homey.”
“We didn’t want it to feel institutional, because that’s just not a good environment for people to recover,” he said.
“We’ve hired a lot of new nurses. We have a group of very seasoned, dedicated individuals who will be running this place,” Bennett said.
Bennett explained that in 2016, Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties formed a tri-county task force.
“Through that, we started to collect a little more data. In 2017, Genesee County ended up at 37 deaths (from opioid overdose) per 100,000. That put us right up there in the state as one of the highest opioid overdose counties,” Bennett said. “
In February 2018, GCASA announced a $1.9 million state grant from the state for a detox facility. Bennett said things were put on hold when the pandemic hit.
“OASAS (state Office of Addiction Services and Supports) took it off hold and the project got built this past year,” he said. “We’re incredibly indebted and thankful to OASAS.”
Bennett said Thursday that there is another project in the works.
“We have a 25-bed women and children’s residential (facility) in Albion, which is in the design phase,” he said. “We’re hoping to break ground sometime early summer of 2022. That’ll have 10 units for women and children, and 15 units for single women.”
A MESSAGE OF HOPE
New York State Behavioral Health Ombudsman Office Director Stephanie Campbell said she works to get people access to care on both the substance abuse and mental health side. She said she also works on policy issues with state agencies.
More importantly, she said, she’s someone in sustained recovery.
“In 1989, someone picked me out of the gutter and gave me a message of hope. I say that because so many people right now are desperate for that hope and that care and that compassion,” she said.
When that person treated her like a human being, she went from being a homeless, street kid to having three masters’ degrees, being a professor and a director, and having an extraordinary career.
“That’s not to brag — there’s millions of people like me ... who get the care and compassion that they need,” Campbell said. “I am so incredibly grateful that this (detox center) program has opened. It’s the heroic folks that are doing this treatment on the front lines — talk about essential workers. You guys are saving lives. Each life that you save is someone who gets to go back into their community, take care of their kids, be a productive member, pay their taxes.”
Assemblyman Steve Hawley, R-Batavia, said this center will give hope to hundreds of people struggling with substance abuse over the course of the upcoming years.
“I’m certain it will help save many lives,” Hawley said.
Hawley said he wanted to thank all who worked on the project to make it a reality.
“I want to thank you for doing what you can to battle substance abuse and addiction, because it’s not gone away as a result of this pandemic. I’m sure that it’s grown more dire,” Hawley said. “The challenges we faced in our lives because of the pandemic have had an especially harsh impact on folks in recovery and those who support all of you here today.”
With circumstances changing constantly in this fight, Hawley said, it’s critical that we remain persistent in our work to raise awareness of ongoing substance abuse and help those who are affected by it.
ACCESS TO TREATMENT
Frederick Rarick, a criminal defense attorney and secretary/treasurer of the GCASA Board of Directors, said many of his clients come into the criminal justice system based on substance abuse issues.
“Many of my clients have families, friends, children, parents who are also affected,” he said. “You can have one individual in a family ... who has substance abuse issues and that impacts the entire family. It impacts their children who, many times, follow in the footsteps of their parents to become involved in the criminal justice system.”
Rarick said he’s honored to be on the Board of Directors.
“I get to see and present firsthand to courts, to judges, to assistant district attorneys about the positive impacts GCASA’s programs can have on our clients,” he said. “I think the judges are more keenly aware — and our whole system, our criminal justice system is more for rehabilitation and recovery, not necessarily punishment. There does come a time, and I always tell my clients, ‘I can’t do it. The judge can’t do it. The DA (district attorney) can’t do it. You ultimately have to decide you want to do it,’ and then we all work together ... collectively, to get you into the programs that you need ...”
Colleen Mance, regional coordinator at OASAS’ Western regional office, congratulated GCASA on the opening of the center.
Mance said it is vitally important for everyone to have the same opportunity to access treatment and a continuum of care for addiction.
“Congratulations to GCASA on this new milestone. I know it’ll be a huge success and we looked forward to the benefits that this will bring to Genesee County and the surrounding area.”