Danita Maryland said she was shocked when she heard that an opioid treatment clinic was going to be located within 50 feet of her infant day care center on Park Heights Avenue.
But she reassured herself that “it couldn’t possibly be so close to where children are – the regulations wouldn’t allow that.”
Sister Yeshiyah Israel, president of the Pimlico Merchants Association, became upset when the principal owner of the planned clinic, Moshe Yitzchak Markowitz, did not attend a meeting with concerned citizens.
“It was disrespectful to the people,” she said.
And Rev. Terrye Moore, assistant pastor of New Solid Rock Fellowship Church, became angry that, by her count, the 17th addiction treatment center was about to be packed into Park Heights.
“We already have too many people loitering around business establishments, too many people selling drugs on the corner,” the pastor said.
As construction workers gutted the former barber shop, the women said, they tried unsuccessfully to get help from Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector before turning to state Sen. Lisa A Gladden (D-41st). Gladden agreed to submit a bill in Annapolis to try to stop the clinic.
In an interview yesterday, Spector said that she was brokering “a win-win” situation in which the clinic would open with the blessing of Neighborhoods United, an umbrella group in Northwest Baltimore.
Spector said she organized a meeting between Markowitz, his business partner and his lawyer and the president and two members of Neighborhoods United last Monday at her City Hall office. She said Neighborhoods United asked her to call the meeting.
The councilwoman accused the opponents of the clinic of “taking advantage of the political atmosphere by trying to make it seem like things can’t work. But they can work.”
Israel, meanwhile, said that no one in the community knew anything about the councilwoman’s meeting with Markowitz and Neighborhoods United.
Chain of Clinics
Land records show that Markowitz purchased the building and an adjoining property for $400,000 last June through 5250-60 Park Heights LLC. His company received a city building permit in December to renovate the interior and install an ADA ramp “for a medical clinic.”
The properties are located between a small strip mall, which houses the ABC Child Development Center, and a storefront church. Across the street is the main parking lot of the Pimlico Race Track.
A Pikesville businessman, Markowitz is a principal owner of a chain of opioid maintenance clinics in the Baltimore area, each of which operates under its own name.
They include BD Health Services on Old North Point Road near the former Sparrows Point steel mill, Eastern Avenue Health Solutions at 5920 Eastern Avenue, Belair Health Solutions at 4825 Belair Road, and Hampden Health Solutions at the Rail at 3612 Falls Road, according to state corporate and land records.
The latter methadone clinic was the subject of an angry public meeting three years ago where two City Council members – Mary Pat Clarke and Nick Mosby – said the clinic should be closed.
Markowitz did not return a telephone call and a message from The Brew seeking his perspective on the Park Heights controversy.
Gladden’s bill would prohibit a methadone center from operating within 500 feet of a school, child care center or other certified child-serving agency. A facility could be established, however, if the school or child care center approved of the location in writing.
Traveling down to Annapolis on Wednesday to testify in favor of the bill, the Park Heights group was told by state officials that a drug treatment center can be located anywhere in Baltimore that commercial zoning allows.
What’s more, the group was met by a solid wall of opposition by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Dr. Gail Jordan-Randolph, deputy secretary of behavioral health at DHMH, insisted that any state law that placed restrictions on the location of opioid treatment programs was against federal law.
Patients Selling Methadone
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), she said, prohibits the denial of services or benefits to persons with physical or mental impairments who are participating in a supervised rehabilitation program such as a methadone clinic. Jordan-Randolph produced an opinion from a Maryland assistant attorney general saying that the Gladden bill appears to be “facially discriminatory.”
The opinion cited a provision in the ADA statute saying that “no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied benefits of the services, programs or activities of a public entity, or be subject to discrimination by any such entity.”
Senate Finance Chairman Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles County) asked what the health department was doing to make sure that citizens, and especially children, were safe near a methadone clinic.
“We’ve got petitions today from a community around the treatment center. People are really concerned that we have drug dealing, people taking the methadone and selling it,” he said. “Do you have anybody who addresses the concerns of neighborhoods around these centers?”
Jordan-Randolph and another deputy, Kathy Rebbert-Franklin, said that Local Addictions Authorities (LAAs) were the agency’s “local pathways” to “manage” community concerns.
Were any community representatives on these panels, Middleton wanted to know.
“We will have consumers on this working group,” Rebbert-Franklin replied.
“I’m talking about people from around these centers,” Middleton said, repeating his question and adding, “That’s where we are getting all the complaints from – from the citizens.”
“If there is an issue with the community, that is a different venue,” Rebbert-Franklin answered. “It’s not that it’s not an inappropriate action to take, but I would recommend a different venue.”
“It’s an Epidemic Out There”
Appearing exasperated by the answer, Middleton said, “It’s an epidemic out there, in my district and everywhere across the state. We’re going to need places where heroin addicts can go.”
To make future expansion of treatment possible, state and local authorities need to look closely at the way clinics operate to gain community support, he said. “If the perception out there is that we just have drug kingpins and others around them and people are getting illegal drugs, citizens are just going to come out and try to block them with whatever powers they have.”
Jordan-Randolph promised Middleton that DHMH would become more involved with public concerns. “But let me just say, we can’t intervene if we don’t know,” she added. “So please feel free to email us with information. More important, I’m going to be very candid, we need names. And that gives us tools to dive down and investigate. I can’t investigate summaries. I have to have more information.”
Recommendations for Baltimore
One of the main goals of last year’s Baltimore Heroin Task Force, commissioned by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and headed by Health Commissioner Leana Wen, was to recommend a “good neighbor” policy for methadone clinic operators.
The task force recommended that operators engage in “productive conversations with community members” and establish and enforce rules that prevent loitering and littering by patients and institute proper security around the centers.
“GOOD NEIGHBOR AGREEMENT”
Recommendation No. 8 of the Mayor’s Heroin Treatment and Prevention Task Force, issued last July:
“Develop standardized good neighbor agreement and establish best practices for substance use disorder providers and community members, including issues such as loitering, cleanliness, security, community advisory committee and voluntary agreements.”
The task force further called for “improved geographic distribution” of methadone clinics in order to avoid “over-concentration of treatment in specific communities,” but did not specifically address the question of clinics located near schools or other child-serving entities.
That’s the part where Danita Maryland, owner of the day care center, finds particular fault with city and state officials.
“I talked to Rikki Spector, and she said she couldn’t do anything because of the ADA law. Now we hear from the DHMH that they can’t do anything either,” she said. “It’s terrible that they aren’t helping and protecting the children. I have asked for, at least, a fence that separates the drug clinic from my day care center. I haven’t gotten any response.”
Spector Slams Critics
Responding in general to complaints about the Park Heights clinic, Spector said, “I can understand people who have an opinion. It’s just like an asshole – everybody has one.”
Dismissing the opponents as obstructionists, Spector continued:
“The best thing is the people who can, in fact, effect a compromise will put it together instead of people who are just stirring up things that don’t benefit the community or the needs we have to deal with to make things work in my district,” she said.
The councilwoman said Markowitz’s clinic would bring “absolute benefits” to the neighborhood, such as possible scholarships for young people wanting to enter the drug counseling field.
“Getting young people involved in the positive message that they could get from good counseling and trained to be a counselor would help them recognize that there are other paths to take for a career than being on the street selling drugs,” Spector said.
‘”Unfortunately,” she added, “drugs are a menace in that community. A menace.”
Reporter Mark Reutter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org