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Hampden methadone clinic vows to be a better neighbor

As a public meeting approaches on what to do about a controversial methadone clinic in Hampden, clinic officials say they are making plans to curb drug dealing, loitering and other issues that have the business and residential communities calling for the state to shut it down.

Baltimore City Council members Mary Part Clarke and Nick Mosby Clarke have scheduled a public meeting for Sept. 12, at 6 p.m., at the Hampden Family Center, 1104 West 36th St., to discuss the clinic. Clarke last month called for the state to close the clinic.

In an Aug. 26 "Dear neighbors" letter, signed "management," Hampden Health Solutions, Inc. said it is hiring a new, experienced administrator to improve the running of the three-year-old clinic at 3612 Falls Road, and has already hired an off-duty Baltimore City police officer with arrest powers to patrol the area of Falls Road and West 36th Street (The Avenue).

"We are committed to being a good neighbor to you, and dedicated to residents of this community," the letter states, adding that the changes are being made "to ensure that we operate within parameters acceptable to our neighbors, and to create a better relationship with the community."

"But they've made promises before," said Benn Ray, president of the Hampden Village Merchants Association, who met recently with both the owners of the clinic and their landlord.

At a monthly meeting of the merchants' association on Aug. 14, some members and a Baltimore City councilwoman complained that the clinic has failed to stop repeated drug dealing and loitering at the clinic, which is within walking distance of several schools, as well as businesses in Hampden's commercial district.

"We want them shut down," Clarke said at that meeting.

Clinic officials said that Jacky Arthur, a former regulator and auditor with the state Office of Health Care Quality, has agreed to supervise the clinic.

Arthur was one of several officials of the clinic who introduced themselves Wednesday at the September meeting of the merchants association.

"The community is our priority, being a good neighbor," Arthur told the merchants.

"Counselors will meet, discuss, and have clients re-sign commitment to our policies in the community; the commitment will reiterate that if they violate the policies, they will be transferred or discharged," the letter states. "Clients will be informed during orientation of the sensitivities of the community, and signs in and around the clinic will clearly note our policy against loitering. Clients have been directed to not use the bus stop in front of the clinic, but rather to use a further bus stop so that no crowds gather in front of the clinic or nearby. This policy will be strictly monitored and enforced."

The letter states that the clinic's hours are 5:30-10 a.m., "to accommodate our neighbors ... so that our business is done by the time local merchants open for business."

The letter also defends the clinic as a needed neighborhood resource.

"We provide an important service to our clients, many of whom come from this community," the letter states.

At last month's merchants' meeting, Clarke called the clinic's problems "pervasive."

"Nothing has improved and it has ingrained itself in an area where thousands of students regularly go," she said.

A short walk away are the public school system's Academy for College and Career Exploration, known as ACCE, and the city's Roosevelt Park Recreation Center.

Clarke also said she would invite state Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Joshua Sharfstein, former Baltimore health commissioner, to the upcoming meeting. Although the methadone clinic is allowed to be where it is by city zoning right, "the state controls their certification and location," Clarke said..

Jerry Shinensky, the clinic's clinical director, accused merchants last month of jumping the gun in trying to close the clinic down, and of singling out the clinic as a magnet for drug dealers. He also said the benefits of the clinic in treating drug abusers outweigh the problems they are causing, and he predicted that if the clients were not being treated, "it would bring additional harm to the community."

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