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Catholic Health chooses new site for controversial drug treatment clinic in Amherst

Catholic Health System, facing unrelenting opposition from neighbors and town officials, will not open a planned drug treatment clinic at 910 Millersport Highway.

The system instead proposes to open the clinic — where patients would receive methadone and other medication-assisted treatment — in an office and industrial park at 210 John Glenn Drive in northwest Amherst.

The new proposed location was on a map of 129 potential alternative sites the town provided Catholic Health last month.

It's also compatible with a new local law the town is weighing that would limit the locations of future drug treatment clinics in Amherst. And patients who take the bus can access the site, an important consideration for Catholic Health.

System leaders said they hope their decision allows them to move on from the tense standoff over the first site and to begin serving patients who are in desperate need of care.

"One hundred and sixty years ago, this is exactly what we were founded on," Mark A. Sullivan, Catholic Health's executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in an interview. "For Catholic Health, this is a pure example of our roots. This is an unmet need. And so it may not be popular, and there's lessons to be learned, but we will figure out a way to meet this need."

Neighbors of 910 Millersport, who learned the news from Catholic Health officials at a private meeting early Monday evening, welcomed the decision. Jennifer DiFiore said she had been planning to sell her North Ivyhurst Road home because of fears the clinic would harm the neighborhood.

"I'm going to be staying in my home now," DiFiore said after the meeting.

Lynda Hitchcock, who has served as an informal spokeswoman for residents, came prepared with "good news" and "bad news" statements to share with reporters after Monday's meeting.

"I think it will work out better for everyone," Hitchcock said in an interview. "I think we can go back to a more normal life."

The system must submit a new application for a certificate of need for the clinic to the state health department as well as a new application to the state's Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. In addition, Amherst must grant a building permit to allow renovations to take place.

Amherst proposes 129 potential methadone clinic sites to Catholic Health

The property in the Audubon Industrial Park is owned by 210-220 John Glenn Associates L.P. The company's managing partner, Barry Weinstein, is unrelated to the Amherst supervisor of the same name.

There is a total of 48,000 square feet of office and warehouse space at 210 John Glenn, at Commerce Drive north of Ellicott Creek. Catholic Health's drug treatment clinic would take about 6,000 square feet of space at 210 John Glenn.

That's more than the 3,800 square feet Catholic Health would have had at 910 Millersport, although the system may not use all of the available space for clinic operations, said Martin Boryszak, president and CEO of Sisters of Charity Hospital, which operates the clinic. Boryszak couldn't give a timeline for the opening of the new clinic.

The system is trying to move its existing clinic at 3730 Sheridan Drive. That clinic provides counseling services but does not provide medication-assisted treatment.

The system's lease at 3730 Sheridan was set to run out at the end of this month, but Catholic Health negotiated a one-year extension, Boryszak said.

Catholic Health had informed a number of town and county officials of its plan to offer methadone and other medication-assisted treatment at a new clinic at 910 Millersport as early as last year. But public disclosure at an April Town Board meeting upset neighbors.

Methadone clinic meeting becomes Amherst political fodder

Catholic Health and Erie County officials said the need for the services provided by the clinic in Amherst is great.

"These aren't criminals," Boryszak said. "These are sick people, who are attempting to get help."

Neighbors said the building is too close to their homes and they fear the clinic will bring crime, traffic and declining property values.

Amherst officials refused to issue the building permit needed for 910 Millersport's owner to proceed with interior renovations, they sent letters to the state Health Department seeking to block the clinic application and they proposed a local law setting tighter restrictions on where drug treatment clinics can operate in the town.

The building at 910 Millersport was zoned for a medical office building, but town officials asked Catholic Health to find another location for the clinic.

Catholic Health rejected the first map of 62 locations, saying none met its criteria.

However, the system took its time reviewing the second batch of 129 locations. Catholic Health employees spent at least 12 hours driving around Amherst and conducting site visits.

Catholic Health is being forced out of drug clinic on Sheridan

Scott Weinstein, property manager at 210 John Glenn and the building owner's son, said the company hasn't informed the other tenants in the building about the possible Catholic Health clinic. He said the previous tenant in the space was a medical office.

"It is a business transaction, that's how we look at it," Weinstein said. Catholic Health and the owner of 210 John Glenn don't have a signed lease yet.

Sullivan on Monday said Catholic Health plans to start meeting with the other tenants at 210 John Glenn in the next month or two to talk about the clinic's services. The town building commissioner confirmed the space is zoned appropriately for the clinic, Sullivan said.

"I think it's a good location for a methadone clinic," Amherst Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein said late Monday, after learning of the system's decision. "I think going into the office park is a good idea. My preference would be a standalone building."

The system made its decision Friday. On Monday, Boryszak informed the owner of 910 Millersport of its decision to move to 210 John Glenn.

Because the new location is 4 miles from 3730 Sheridan, and in the 14228 ZIP code, it will be subject to a full -- not a limited -- review by the state health department.

As of last week, 233 people have died in Erie County from drug overdoses this year, Sullivan said.

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