READING – With the legal issues behind them, the Reading Select Board approved a new chapter Wednesday in the latest use of 59 Middlesex Ave.
With a 5-0 vote, the board approved Lowell House Addiction Treatment and Recovery to be the new occupants of the old Daniels House Nursing Home. By January the facility across the street from the Public Library will be the new home to 18 teenagers, ages 13-17, temporary residents of the first facility of its kind in Eastern Massachusetts.
“It sounds like you’re going to be a great neighbor and we look forward to that,” said Select Board chair Karen Herrick after the vote.
The Select Board vote comes more than a month after the end of a long legal process, with the town on one side and the property owner, Dan Botwinik, on the other. After the nursing home closed two years ago, it appeared the Process Recovery Center, a drug and alcohol addiction treatment program, would take over the facility. But disputes arose and the case ended up in federal district court before the parties settled on April 22.
During the legal proceedings, the Process Recovery Center lost interest, leaving Botwinik looking for a new tenant. Enter the Lowell House Addiction Treatment and Recovery group. The two have been talking for more than a year, a process made complicated by the pandemic. While Botwinik and the Lowell House were familiar with each other, Wednesday was the first time the Select Board met the group to vote on the suitability of Lowell House to work in Reading.
As introductions go, this one went well for Lowell House and the numerous staff members in attendance at the virtual meeting. CEO Bill Garr led the discussion before handing off to Diana Newell, the Executive Director of Integrated Care. Lowell House is in its 51st year and the Reading site would be their first outside of the Lowell area.
Whether it was questions from the board or the 11 residents on zoom, the Lowell House staff had answers. Board member Carlo Bacci asked how long kids would be in the home, and Newell said it would 90 days to six months depending on the individual. Mark Dockser asked about staffing and was told there’s one staff member for every three kids. Chris Haley asked about security cameras and Garr said there would be many and that no resident could walk out of the facility alone without being noticed.
Residents also had concerns. Tracy Giles of 65 Middlesex Ave., asked if any of the kids could be convicted felons. Alma Jeleskovic of 51 Middlesex asked if any could be homicidal. Nicole Nicosia of 17 Middlesex asked if any of the residents would be considered violent. The answer to all these questions were no, mainly because the program isn’t set up to handle teens with those issues.
But Newell acknowledged that the kids aren’t perfect.
“If the kids are in DYS, I think you can assume that they’ve probably broken some laws,” said Newell. “What they’ve broken are things that they’ve only broken because they’re kids. Like curfew and not going to school. For the most part, we’re not going to have any heavy hitters.”
There were many questions about sufficient outdoor space and Newell admitted the lack of outdoor space was the only thing she didn’t like about the site. But she quickly added that Reading has 13 recreation areas within 2.2 miles of the home.
In general, the answers were direct and honest, including answers about kids being unsupervised and walking to the library on their own. The answer there was no, with doors and windows alarmed with cameras throughout the facility. And what happens if kids are taken to recreation areas and try to run away?
“Kids do run, and it’s going to happen,” said Newell. “There’s a whole level of required training that all the staff are going to go through as far as de-escalation verbal and physical. Our relationship with the police department and other services in town are going to be really important because it’s inevitable. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that’s not going to happen. It’s absolutely going to happen and we’re going to do everything we can to determine if a kid should be going out. Kids are not going to go out if they’re in a volatile state. They’re not going to go out in the beginning.”
The residents who participated appreciated the presentation by Lowell House and the work they do.
“This sounds like a terrific service,” said Mike Monaghan of Bancroft, who said he’s experienced addiction issues in his family. “I think if it’s done properly and responsibly, I think it’s one that is much needed and I’m glad it’s coming to Reading.”
Lowell House’s first lease is for five years and includes an option to purchase the building from Botwinik. They expect to need six months to prepare the building, meaning an opening date of January, 2022. In addition to Lowell House’s work on the property, codes, building inspection, and other permit and inspection needs would have to occur before the certificate of occupancy would be issued by the town.
According to their website, the Lowell House Addition Treatment and Recovery is a private non-profit organization that “has been providing high quality, accessible and affordable addictions services and related supports to the Greater Lowell community since 1971. Our programs cover a broad range of inpatient and outpatient treatment and living options that support recovery across a lifetime.”
Lowell House expects to open with nine boys and nine girls but the facility will have 24 beds in total with single, double, and triple rooms. According to the Mass.gov website it will double the number of youth treatment beds in the state. The facility will provide supervision 24 hours a day, seven days a week in a residential setting licensed by the Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Substance Addiction Services.
On June 2, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) and the Department of Public Health (DPH) announced $800,000 in grants for two new residential treatment facilities for adolescents with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders, one of which is the property at 59 Middlesex Ave.
The grant recipients, the Center for Human Development in Chicopee and Lowell House in Reading, will provide critical residential treatment services for young people in Eastern and Western Massachusetts, with a combined capacity of 39 treatment beds.
“These awards are part of our ongoing investment in life-saving addiction treatment programs, especially for young people struggling with mental health concerns and substance use,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders. “The supports and services offered by inpatient treatment programs can often be the most effective option for many teens dealing with addiction and their families.”
While the state grant is important, neighbors along Middlesex Ave., heard something even better Wednesday night.
“We’re going to do everything we can to be wonderful neighbors,” said Newell.