Leaders of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe told the approximately 1,300 people who attended a public meeting that its planned medicine-assisted treatment center is moving forward.
People filled the Guy Cole Event Center far beyond capacity on Aug. 8 — with overflow seating extending to the parking lot — as community members for and against the facility spoke their minds on the planned facility.
“We have a location and resources we can use now,” said Ron Allen, chair and CEO of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, which hosted the meeting.
“We’ve made a substantial commitment to this project. We’re moving forward.”
He told the crowd the tribe will take people’s concerns about the project into consideration, but that he firmly believes the things people fear will not materialize.
The tribe heard from people concerned that treatment center, located on the west side of Sequim, is in the wrong place and that it will attract crime.
“My contention is that Sequim is the wrong location for a large MAT clinic,” said Wendy Goldberg of Sequim, a co-leader of Save our Sequim.
A sign that said “KEEP SEQUIM’S CHILDREN SAFE NO DRUG CLINIC” stood outside as people arrived at the meeting.
“It’s going to happen and at the end of the day it will be one classy place for the service,” Allen said. “It’s going to fill a void for health care. We’re not moving it, but we are gong to be sensitive to the issues we’re hearing about.”
The four-hour meeting was split into two sections. First, the tribe, health officials and law enforcement talked about plans for the Healing Campus. That was followed by a three-hour public comment period.
During public comment speakers were split into two lines: one “for” and one “against” the facility and speakers had two minutes each to speak their mind. When the meeting ended four hours later, there were about three more people in the “against” line.
The treatment center
Tribal officials say the medication-assisted treatment facility will be unlike any other on the North Olympic Peninsula, where almost all medication-assisted treatment is provided by primary care providers.
The tribe purchased 20 acres of land zoned for health care on South Ninth Avenue, adjacent to U.S. Highway 101, where it will build a 15,000 square-foot medication-assisted treatment facility that will eventually treat approximately 250 patients. The hope is to open it in 2021.
The state provided the tribe with $7.2 million in capital funding and the tribe expects to spend more than $3 million of its own money on the project.
Patients at the outpatient facility will receive daily medications for their opioid-use disorder and receive wrap-around services of primary care, dental, individual and group counseling, childcare and transportation if needed.
In emails, officials familiar with MAT programs offered through primary care providers on the North Olympic Peninsula said those programs are at capacity.
Olympic Peninsula Health Services reported it is able to accept new patients the same day they seek help and BayMark Health Services is preparing to open a facility in Port Angeles that offers methadone.
The tribe’s medication-assisted treatment facility is the first phase in developing the Jamestown Healing Campus and is expected to add about 70 jobs in Sequim.
The second phase involves adding a 16-bed psychiatric treatment hospital, operated by Olympic Medical Center staff, that is expected to open in 2022. Funding has not been secured.
Brent Simcosky, director of health services for the tribe, said last week that inpatient facilities have only a 4 percent success rate, while the success rate of MAT facilities with wrap-around services is closer to 80 percent.
“If you’re going to heal a person, you have to make sure their physical and mental well-being is in place,” Simcosky said. “Then we start to work with them so they can start to be a valuable person in the community again.”
Simcosky spoke about what the facility is and also emphasized what it isn’t.
The treatment center is not an impatient facility, meaning no overnight stays. The tribe will not bus clients from outside the North Olympic Peninsula. It will serve only Clallam and Jefferson counties.
“We’re not a 600-bed inpatient facility,” he said. “Contrary to popular belief, we have not bought a bunch of school buses to get ready to head over to Seattle.”
Allen told the crowd that the majority of those participating in the program will drive themselves to the facility, a statement which many in the crowd greeted with shouting or laughing.
“Driving high on Suboxone?” some asked.
“That’s illegal,” said others.
When used in proper doses Suboxone does not make patients high and it is not illegal to drive having taken it, because patients are not impaired, officials said many times during the meeting.
Patients will be required to leave the facility the same way they arrived.
The clinic would be open 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., which would help accommodate patients’ work schedules, Simcosky said.
“Most of our patients will already have jobs,” Simcosky said, prompting some laughter in the crowd. “I know people don’t believe that, but we already have 400-500 people in MAT clinics throughout Clallam County and almost all of them have jobs.”
Simcosky said the tribe is dedicated to keeping the facility secure, and plans to contract with Security Services Northwest and have about 100 cameras.
After its presentation, the tribe allowed everyone who wanted to speak to do so. The meeting, which started at 5:45 p.m., ended at 10 p.m.
Some accused the tribe of promoting addictions to alcohol, gambling and marijuana while now wanting to treat opioid addiction. Some criticized the tribe for not involving the community in the decision, while others said people should have attended public meetings.
Many who spoke against the MAT facility said they want to see people with opioid-use disorder have access to treatment, but they didn’t want to see a facility of this scale in Sequim.
Goldberg, citing stats provided by Clallam County, said there were “only eight” overdoses in Sequim in 2016. Most overdoses were in Port Angeles, which had 64 percent of the county’s overdoses.
“I’d like to also suggest many people, addicts, will come on their own to the MAT clinic,” she said. “They have feet and as soon as they hear there are free services they will come rushing into Sequim.”
Jodi Wilke, a co-leader of Save our Sequim, told tribal leaders she had three pages of rebuttals to the information they presented.
She said during the public comment period that there has yet to be a venue in which those opposed to the project could present their point of view.
“This venue is such that only one side is represented in the meeting,” Wilke said. “If we can’t be allowed in this public discussion today, outside our two- to three-minute snippets of information, we ask the city provide us an opportunity to do so.”
Wilke, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for state representative last year, is registered with the Public Disclosure Commission to run again next year, but said she is not planning to run for office.
Said Tim Wheeler, a Sequim High School graduate who has lived in Sequim for many years: “Our own neighbors, women and children are affected by this crisis and we must act on it.
“It’s up to us to act on it and take pride in the fact that we act on it. We should be proud this clinic is going to be in our community.”
Miranda Beck, who has been using Suboxone to treat her opioid-use disorder for more than 688 days, described how her life has changed over the last two years.
She said had been taking opioids for many years for pain management, but when her doctor retired she went to the streets to find drugs.
“I overdosed three times before I ever got clean,” Beck said. “When I overdosed for the last time and was saved — my mother, seeing her tears and hurting, I had to do something different.”
Beck told the crowd she is not homeless, she is not on the streets, she is not committing crimes and that she is part of the leadership at her church.
“I came here to show you people that what … a MAT patient would look like is nothing like what you guys are interpreting,” she said.