Tensions run high as Harwood residents discuss a new methadone clinic

A crowd gathered on the corner of 25th Street and Brentwood Avenue last night, and they were angry. Concerted Care Group, LLC is opening a new health clinic there, and many residents are upset they were never consulted, fearful that promises of integrated care will give way to just another methadone clinic and the crime and unsanitary conditions that many fear follow them.

Concerted Care Group's meeting offered pizza, Hawaiian punch, and a microphone, but for many in attendance, it was much too little, too late, with residents complaining they had heard nothing of the clinic's arrival until just recently.

Indeed, Concerted Care Group showed all the fumblings of a bad new neighbor. The meeting was moved to the parking lot of Manna House, across the street from the housing complex that was supposed to host it; unfortunately Concerted Care Group failed to inform the housing complex itself, which meant folks were forced to sit on folding chairs, sun in their eyes, moving to try and catch the shifting remains of shade. Many hadn't heard about the meeting until just that morning, thanks to the diligence of local community groups and neighborhood associations. Concerted Care Group hasn't gotten off on the best foot, and those in attendance let them know about it.

The meeting started with welcomes from representatives of the clinic and a speaker from Johns Hopkins Hospital, all extolling the benefits of the new center. It will offer integrated health services, including drug-addiction treatment, mental health, and primary health care—a kind of one-stop shop for people who need a range of services. Most methadone clinics address only immediate addiction issues, leaving people traveling all over town to try to get basic needs met in order to set the stage for a life free from addiction. Concerted Care Group promises something very different, and they were insistent that residents remain patient and work with them as they try to bring real help to the needy in the neighborhood.

Meeting attendees spoke in opposition to the center, although, as Concerted Care Group kept reiterating, it's already there. Residents argued that the neighborhood is oversaturated with drug treatment programs, and another will simply draw more addicts to the neighborhood, and with them, the predators that set up shop around clinics. The tone was a bit different from the NIMBY arguments heard about public works projects in neighborhoods like Canton; rather than not-in-my-backyard, residents argue that it's already in my backyard—put it in someone else's. Alan Mlinarchik of Charm City Group, a developer and landlord in the area and member of a task force organizing against the clinic, was even more cynical, arguing that the clinic was a cash grab by developers seeking to make money off the Affordable Care Act and its extension of Medicaid benefits to poor residents. In spite of Concerted Care Group's insistence that the clinic is a done deal, the appearances of Delegate Mary Washington, the chief of staff from Carl Stokes's office, and organizers from the Central Baltimore Partnership and a myriad community and neighborhood organizations suggest the fight's not over.

Others spoke of the need for the center. One resident spoke of having to travel all over the city to get treatment for her addiction issues and basic health care needs, reiterating that she, too, is a neighbor and resident who has a stake in the new center. A pastor of a local church told the residents that he was suspicious of Concerted Care Group too, but upon learning more about the plans, urged people to keep an open mind. As another resident put it, "A closed mind is like a closed book; it does no good until you open it." For these residents, the center will meet needs that are obvious to anyone who lives in or travels through the streets of this area. Sure, there are methadone clinics over on Maryland Avenue, but Concerted Care Group argues they do not offer the wide range of health and psychiatric services this clinic will, and the evidence is clear that an unmet need remains. (The task force organizing opposition to Concerted Care Group argues there isn't evidence to support this claim, particularly because 85 percent of the clients at the Maryland Avenue facilities are from outside the 21218 ZIP code.) Rather than assuming the worst, let's work with this group to try to do some real good in the neighborhood.

The meeting ultimately highlighted the complexity of these issues. This particular neighborhood has plenty of residents who need the services the clinic promises to offer, and siting the clinic here will allow them easy and much-needed access. As one speaker pointed out, the people most in need are too drugged into submission to even make it to the meeting. Who hears their voices? Shouldn't we do our best to care for these neediest of neighbors? At the same time, if clinics like this attract predators who prey on those suffering from addiction, won't it bring more crime and unrest to a neighborhood that doesn't need it? How do we balance the needs of all of us, when our needs so often conflict? The arguments aren't over up on 25th Street.

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