WORCESTER – On Tuesday, Sept. 5, the Washburn House – an alcohol and drug addiction recovery center located on Main Street in Worcester’s Webster Square area – will launch their new withdrawal management program aimed at providing clients with an opportunity to detox before enrolling in Washburn House’s clinically managed inpatient program.

Just up the road, at the former Anna Maria Nursing Home, Washburn House owner Timothy Rassias has plans to open an extended care program for Washburn House recovery patients sometime this coming winter.

According to Washburn House CEO Neil Gaer, in an interview on Friday, Sept.1, mailers will be going out to Main South residents in the near future describing the services Washburn House has to offer.

“Where it stands right now is that we are moving forward. We are getting out into the neighborhood to explain our services and we are putting together an advisory board of community members that can help us with community feedback,” Gaer said.

According to Gaer, the Washburn House is seeking five to six community members for the board and will not have elected officials serving on the board “at this time.”

“We want it to be a true representation of the neighborhood,” Gaer said.

Backlash From Elected Officials and Neighborhood

Some of Worcester’s Main South residents and two elected officials are calling for Rassias to put a halt to those plans immediately.

On Thursday, Aug. 17, a neighborhood meeting was held at Christ the Rock Fellowship Church to answer residents’ questions and to serve as a platform to express any concerns they had. The meeting was organized by District 5 City Councilor Gary Rosen and, following the meeting, Rosen asked Rassias to shelve his plans on opening the Washburn House extension at Anna Maria.

In an email to ThisWeekinWorcester on Friday, Sept. 1, Councilor Rosen said, “Last week, I told Tim Rassias’ attorney that State Rep. Kate Campanale and I would have to serve as members of any community advisory council that is started. I understood that he was agreeable to that.”

“I also understood that they planned to send out a mailing to some abutters and area residents providing them with some more information on the facility. I do not know if that was done,” Rosen added.

Rosen said Rassias and his attorney have both stated that Rassias won’t attend any further public meetings.

According to Elizabeth Armitage, the Marketing and Business Development Manager at the Washburn House, the program at Anna Maria will be an extended care program.

In an interview last week, Armitage said, “Clients will go through detox and will stay in the Washburn House for two to three weeks in the [inpatient] program. If they’re motivated and they want to keep doing this and stay engaged in our program, they will be moved up to Anna Maria.”

“They’ll live there, but they will be coming to Washburn House everyday to access services,” Armitage added.

Washburn House clients are working to recover from drug and alcohol addictions

Armitage said that the length of stay for a client at Anna Maria hasn’t yet been determined because the program isn’t fully developed, but the early estimate is six to eight weeks.

In a notice from Councilor Rosen that was published in a column in The Worcester Independent Leader by Councilor-At-Large Michael T. Gaffney, Rosen spoke critically of the opening of the Anna Maria extension and further stated his want to be a member of the advisory board.

“…in response to the fears and concerns of dozens of upset area residents and business owners, I asked the owner of Washburn House to shelve his plans to open a second substance abuse treatment center at this facility,” Rosen wrote.

He added, “[Rassias’] attorney suggested that I provide input into the membership of this 7-member advisory council. I shall do that. However, two members on that council must necessarily be State Representative Campanale and myself. We must not and will not agree to stop representing and advocating for the people who elected us to serve their community, OUR community.”

In his column, Gaffney called for the removal of the program from the Main South neighborhood and wrote, “Let’s be honest, addiction treatment is an industry. Worse, it is an industry with an extremely poor track record of success that destroys neighborhoods and cities.

“I’m tired of the addiction industry’s failures and excuses. I’m tired [of] walking on eggshells about this topic knowing that any discussion of real solutions and the real effect on neighborhoods will be met by zealous addiction treatment profiteers screaming their bumper sticker slogans,” he added.

Gaer hopes that the people in the neighborhood will come to Washburn House to see the work they do and form their own opinion on the benefits of the recovery center.

“It’s an extension of what we’re doing at Washburn House. We would invite anyone that hasn’t seen it to come visit Washburn House. I’d be happy to give anyone a tour to come see what we’re about and what we do and I think it would help to continue to reduce the stigma,” Gaer said.

Armitage said, “I’m sure some people are looking at us differently because we are a for-profit and not a non-profit organization. But if people could see what we’re doing and that we are trying to provide these services the right way. Every person on the staff cares so much about what we are doing and care so much about the people we are caring for. I wish people could see that.”

“It’s ridiculous how crazy [the opioid epidemic] has gotten,” Armitage said. “There are people shouting ‘Not in our backyard,’ but it’s happening right here in everyone’s backyard in Worcester,” Armitage added.

“Our goal is to be a great neighbor and to treat people that are local to the Worcester community. It’s going to be an intensive extended care program at Anna Maria and when our clients have completed their stay at Anna Maria, they will go back into the Worcester community and hopefully they will be successful,” Gaer said.

Detox Program Launches Today

Even with all the noise surrounding Anna Maria, the Washburn House still managed to open a withdrawal management program today with 16 beds.

Armitage said, ‘The withdrawal management program is where people come into detox and get all of the substances out of their system. It’s not a pleasant experience usually.  Our clients can’t have drugs in their system to be admitted into the [inpatient] program. They are tested before they come in. They will start in the detox program if they do.”

Although Gaer isn’t sure how many of the 16 beds will be filled at the start of the program, he said the detox program will allow their clients an even greater scope of treatment.  

The entrance to the Washburn House at 1183 Main Street in Worcester

 “It’s exciting for us that we can medically stabilize people from alcohol and/or opiates. We get to expand into longer term treatment,” Gaer said.

“Today, we could fill [the detox program], but because the program is still in its infancy, we want to make sure that these people get the right attention and that we get everything right in the program,” Armitage said.

The process of entering Washburn House under the influence of drugs or alcohol begins with meeting a team of nurses and a clinician, then spending five to seven days in the detox program before spending up to 30 days in the inpatient program.

According to Armitage, there are currently 13 clients in the inpatient program which can hold a total of 32 clients at a time.

There are more than 50 employees working at the Washburn House and Armitage believes that their staff-to-client ratio benefits the client and will play a large role is the client’s road to recovery.

“Our motto is ‘Getting Better Together,’ and that’s what we really wanted to create – a sense of togetherness and family. It’s not that I’m a staff member, and the patient is just a client. We’re all in this together, you’re not alone,” Armitage said.

Gaer said, “There’s too many people in harm’s way right now with this disease. If we can save a life, and help a mom or a dad sleep better at night knowing their kid is safe, then that’s our obligation.”

About Patrick Sargent

Patrick Sargent is the founder and lead reporter for ThisWeekinWorcester.com. He was born and raised on Grafton Hill and is a graduate of Holy Name high school and Worcester State University. Over the past two years, he worked as a contributing reporter for the Worcester Sun. Previous to that, over the course of several years, he had stints with GoLocalWorcester, Worcester Magazine, the Leominster Champion and Fitchburg Pride. He is the owner of Sargent Media, LLC and can be contacted at [email protected] or 774-232-1223.

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