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Editorial: Catholic Health shows leadership on clinic site

The leaders at Catholic Health System thought it through, accepted some hard facts and, this week, came up with a far better plan for locating a new drug treatment clinic. In that, it has once again shown itself to be a good corporate citizen while taking critical action on behalf of those suffering people for whom its services may literally mean the difference between life and death.

Catholic Health had proposed opening a new clinic at 910 Millersport Highway, but ran into fierce and unyielding opposition from neighbors and Amherst town officials. Accepting that not unreasonable reality but also understanding the crucial need for a clinic in the midst of a lethal opioid crisis, leaders of the system went back to work.

Using a map of 129 potential alternative locations provided by the town, Catholic Health leaders settled on what looks like a nearly ideal location in an office and industrial park at 210 John Glenn Drive in northwest Amherst.

Significantly, it’s not a residential district, as the Millersport site was. Just as important, it’s accessible by public transportation, a nonnegotiable characteristic if the clinic is to meet its mission. Many addicted people don’t have easy access to personal transportation.

Of course, not everyone is going to be excited about the prospect of the drug clinic’s new location, but there are some other facts that have to be considered and, in particular, this one: People are dying. Families are suffering.

Like the rest of the country, Erie County, including Amherst, is struggling through an opioid crisis that is killing hundreds of people every year. Many of those people became addicted on opioid painkillers that doctors prescribed for them. Frequently in those cases, patients whose prescriptions ran out turned to a chemically similar drug: street-corner heroin, which is cheaper, easier to get and frequently deadly. Such is the ferocious grip of addiction.

The clinic wants to make a difference. While it offers counseling at its current location at 3730 Sheridan Drive, it does not provide medication-assisted treatment. That will change at the new location, where the clinic plans to offer methadone and other medication-assisted treatments. The need is obvious and compelling. The only question has been the best place to provide these services.

It’s important to remember, as an executive within Catholic Health pointedly noted, that their patients are not criminals. “These are sick people, who are attempting to get help,” said Martin Boryszak, president and CEO of Sisters of Charity Hospital.

Helping is what hospitals are supposed do. It’s what religious-affiliated organizations are called to do. It’s what communities who care about protecting public health and easing terrible suffering should want to do.

To make this work, the Catholic Health System had to negotiate an extension of its lease at the Sheridan Drive location. Originally, that lease was set to expire at the end of this year. With the extension, Catholic Health leaders will have more time to move to the new location. That work will wisely begin by meeting with the other tenants at 210 John Glenn in the next month or two. The property is in the Audubon Industrial Park and is owned by 210-220 John Glenn Associates L.P.

The clinic is expected to take up about 6,000 square feet of space in the new location, much larger than the 3,800 square feet offered at the rejected Millersport Highway site. Given the ballooning crisis enveloping the area, it may eventually need it all.

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