Angry residents of Southwest Baltimore are planning a protest this evening in Mount Clare at a building where the University of Maryland recently moved a methadone clinic for more than 500 people.
Why was that spot chosen? “This is not dissimilar to services already there,” said Mary Lynn Carver, senior vice president for communications and public affairs for the University of Maryland Medical System and the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Carver was explaining why the clinic, run by the medical school for the city-affiliated Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems (BSAS), was being moved to 1001 W. Pratt St., part of the old B&O Railroad Museum complex purchased by the Abell Foundation from troubled Baltimore Behavioral Health Inc. (BBH).
Carver’s answer made Jane Buccheri, one of those angry residents, angrier still. Yes, she said the area has been burdened with a disproportionately high number of treatment programs for substance abusers and the mentally ill.
“And that makes it right? For them to bring in more?”said Buccheri, a leader of the Southwest Partnership, a coalition which includes Hollins Roundhouse, Pigtown, Pigtown Mainstreet, Mount Clare, Union Square and Franklin Square.
“Let her come live here and say that!”
Building Purchased by Abell Foundation
Clearly the area is a major center for city addiction and other health services. The approximately 525 patients who began receiving methadone treatment in the 1001 W. Pratt building in January are in addition to 500 patients already there, receiving substance abuse services from BBH.
Early this year, the Abell Foundation purchased the BBH buildings on West Pratt St. for $3 million and now leases the space back to the organization. The University of Maryland also leases the space from Abell, Carver said.
According to data compiled by BSAS, the University of Maryland provides substance abuse services and counseling services for an additional 150 people at the 1001 W. Pratt building, but Carver was not able to verify that number.
Carver said the move to Mount Clare was necessary because the building where the methadone clinic had previously been housed, the Walter P. Carter Center at 630 W. Fayette St., “can’t be renovated, has some issues and has to be torn down.”
An analysis of substance abuse and other service programs in the area, compiled by BSAS and provided to the community at the request of the mayor’s office, shows that the additional methadone patients are part of more than 2,000 people who receive such services in the 21223 zip code, in Southwest Baltimore.
Grouping Substance Abuse Services
Community members say they began hearing rumors last fall that a building owned by BBH was going to be sold. In January, they learned that the organization’s West Pratt Street campus had been purchased by Abell’s “Pratt Street Holdings LLC.”
When the group examined an occupancy permit for the building on file with the state in late October, the specified use was “administrative offices,” Buccheri said, but “when we looked at it in late January, it later appeared to have been updated to include ‘clinic.’”
“This was slipped in on us,” she fumed. “The city and University of Maryland never reached out to tell the community what they were planning. Nothing like this happens without the mayor’s approval.”
Several resident said petty crime, vandalism, drug dealing and loitering are hurting their communities.
“This is holding back our efforts to convince more people to move in, to deal with vacants, to make this community live up to its fantastic potential,” said Scott Kashnow of Franklin Square.
Spokesmen for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake did not reply to The Brew’s request for information about the handing of the move.
Carver faulted the community groups for not talking with the University before planning the rally, but acknowledged that there wasn’t a lot of discussion with the community. Why? Because the community was already co-existing with BBH’s clients and other people receiving special medical services in that location, she said.
“Obviously grouping services in one location close to the University and to public transportation made sense,” she said.
Asked about the community’s charges that they were not consulted about the move, Abell Foundation president Robert C. Embry Jr. said today that the community should take that up with the mayor.
“It’s not our job,” he said. “We just bought the building.”
According to Embry, the University sought Abell’s help moving “the biggest methadone clinic in the city” and Abell did their best to make it happen.
Embry said moving the clinic had nothing to do with separate efforts to reduce drug dealing at Lexington Market or “clean up” Baltimore’s Westside, as some residents have charged.
“It had to be within walking distance of the University [hospital] and had to be on public transportation” he said.
Embry said he sympathizes with people who don’t like having a substance program in their community (“I wouldn’t like it”), but said such services are needed in Baltimore “and by some residents of those communities.”
“It comes down to competing goods,” he said. “If it got moved, it’d be somebody else picketing.”
Buccheri, president of Hollins Roundhouse Community Association, argues that city officials have asked Southwest Baltimore residents to do more than their share. “They think because a lot of people in this area don’t vote, because the income level is low, it doesn’t matter.”