Permit approved for controversial 200-bed substance abuse recovery facility in Wilmington

Updated: Feb. 6, 2019 at 6:16 AM EST
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WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - At Tuesday night’s Wilmington City Council meeting, a special use permit allowing for a 200-bed substance abuse recovery facility was approved, bringing some closure to a long-running issue.

Called The Healing Place, the facility planned for Medical Center Drive was approved on the condition that a licensed security professional remain on site around the clock.

City council listened to passionate speakers for and against the proposed treatment facility for almost four hours before voting to approve it with conditions.

The room was full of people in the audience, with no seats remaining and people filling the upper level. Several people brought signs.

Those against the proposed facility wore badges reading, “Support the need, not the location,” while those in favor of the facility wore badges with, “Support the need and the location.”

First, several representatives from Trillium explained what kind of treatment the participants would receive, framing the facility as a social, non-medical detox facility.

Trillium staff said the initial goal is 100 beds total, broken down into 79 beds for the treatment program, 11 emergency beds in a shelter, and 10 for a detox facility. It will begin with 30 male clients and two staff members before increasing to desired capacity. The facility will accept people 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“I think it’s a great thing for people who have addiction in this community, I think that this additional resource will help a lot of people," said Cindy Ehlers, Executive Vice President of Trillium Health Services, after the news that the permit was approved.

Attorneys and representatives of neighboring businesses also addressed city council, expressing concerns about safety, security, and crime being in close proximity to recovering addicts.

“We recognize in Wilmington and New Hanover County the opioid crisis that our community is facing. At (Lower Cape Fear Hospice), we have a lot of opioids on campus, another concern just with the proximity of the detox facility and the homeless shelter right behind the care center. So it’s not that we’re in opposition to the need whatsoever, it’s merely the location and that’s what we’re hoping to find some compromise tonight,” said Craig Wagner, Chief Marketing and Engagement Officer.

Leaders from the Children’s Learning Center said they conducted a survey, finding 45% of parents said they would remove their children from the center if the permit was approved.

People speaking on behalf of the treatment facility labeled the concerns as stigma against people recovering from addiction, which some in the crowd countered with sighs and shaking heads.

“Education is the best way to combat stigma, really understanding that the men in this facility are our brothers, our husbands, our cousins, our neighbors, these are not people that don’t want help. They’re people that do," said Ehlers.

“The next step for our team is to continue to negotiate with Coastal Horizons. They are our selected provider to operate this facility. We have a long way to go with negotiating that with them, due diligence with their board," said Ehlers.

The Healing Place proposal was one of several items that have been on the council’s agenda for months. A vote on the recovery facility had been postponed five times in five months.

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