The East Kensington community voted down 54-8 Kensington Hospital’s proposal to move its methadone dispensary facility from its current location to one just over a block away, and closer to public transit and schools.
The East Kensington Neighbors Association, the Norris Square Civic Association and Hope Street Neighbors for Better Living came assembled at a joint meeting on Nov. 12 at Kensington Ministries Presbyterian Church to hear Kensington Hospital’s plans for the move.
The hospital is proposing the renovation of a vacant building at 2100 N. Front St., as well as the construction of an addition to the existing building.
Neighbors at the meeting raised concerns that the proposed methadone clinic would be close to Kensington CAPA School as well as the Berks SEPTA train station.
Carl Primavera, an attorney working with Kensington Hospital, explained at the meeting that the hospital was given a grant by the city for the explicit purpose of moving the methadone facility to the new location. Once it’s moved, the hospital would backfill that space with other hospital programs.
The current methadone program has been in operation for 15 years, and sees 130 people per day. It has a capacity of 160 people, but is unable to meet capacity because of space.
Hospital administrators explained that the proposed clinic is not a new program, but is intended to simply move the same program to the new building. At the new building, Kensington Hospital is permitted by the state to have a capacity of 300, but hospital presenters were adamant that they did not expect that would happen quickly, if at all.
Dan Dugan, director of behavioral health services at the hospital, said the new facility would “probably stay at the existing number for awhile,” and also outlined the facility’s proposed hours: from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., patients who have documented jobs report to the facility; other patients can visit from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., and then, Dugan said, from noon to 2:30, “new clients and ‘problem’ clients” can visit the facility.
Neighbors were concerned that the “problem client” wave would take place just as nearby schools were dismissing students. Dugan said the hospital would readjust its hours for that timeframe.
Dugan also said, “We have not seen any drug transactions while we’re open [at the current facility]…[but] we can’t control Front Street.”
Meeting attendees were particularly skeptical of the increased capacity, especially because the hospital currently has a vacant, boarded-up fourth floor. A hospital representative explained that Kensington hospital began renovations on the fourth floor of the hospital, and found asbestos. The hospital had to absorb the funds to remove the asbestos, and so put the renovations on hold. That floor, then, can not be used for the methadone clinic.
Eileen Hause, CEO of Kensington Hospital, said that moving the facility to the new location will allow it to be a “state of the art medical building.”
“We need space for the clients we already have,” Hause said, and explained that the new space will have cameras and a guard.
Elizabeth and Joaquin Koenig, who live only 100 feet from the proposed methadone clinic location, told Star they were very concerned about the new clinic potentially moving to their street.
“My concern is we have young children, and everyone uses public transportation and walks with their kids…[the hospital said] they already can’t control what’s going on,” Elizabeth said.
“The neighborhood is revitalizing, it’s getting better, so to us it’s like we can’t even fathom why this is going on,” Joaquin said. “It’s like this is a step back.”
Attendee Victor Negron said the methadone clinic is a much-needed service, and he was in support of the hospital moving the clinic to a new location, particularly because there would be more space for things like a waiting room for patients, he said.
“I didn’t know we were talking about expanding,” he said. “How do we support the potential doubling [of clients]? How do we work together to address it?” •