The shuttered clinic location in Lower Moyamensing
Neighbors watched with interest in early July as the shuttered doctor’s office at 2326 S. 12th St. in Lower Moyamensing was reopened. Then, they began to wonder: What kind of doctor’s office needs an armed guard on site? The answer was a clinic dispensing suboxone, which, like methadone, is given to people addicted to opiates. The community organized, protests were held, 1st District Councilman Mark Squilla and Licenses & Inspections were called in (the clinic didn’t initially have a use permit) — and within a couple weeks, the clinic was shut down. Except it wasn’t.
Rochelle Williams, who ran the clinic, Solutions in Re-covery, with oversight from Dr. Clarence Verdell, applied for a new use permit on July 22 for 4949 Frank-ford Ave., in Frankford, a neighborhood saturated with addiction-recovery houses. She received one the same day. That location is three miles from where neighbors have been fighting a public legal battle against a methadone clinic called The Healing Way.
Lawmakers say it’s time there was more public input regarding such clinics. Squilla tells CP he wants to call hearings in the fall. He thinks such clinics should be allowed only by special zoning exception, rather than by right. In Harrisburg, state Rep. Kevin Boyle (D-Northeast Philly) has been pushing to make the process, for methadone clinics at least, more transparent. But currently, L&I doesn’t have discretion in issuing use permits; the clinics may operate by right in many locations. After L&I gave a permit to The Healing Way, the Zoning Board of Adjustment overturned it. But the Court of Common Pleas reversed the ZBA’s decision.
A neighbor of the LoMo site said the clinic was out of place on his quiet block, near several schools. “They were a little unsavory,” he says of the patrons. Squilla says his office had 20 or 30 phone calls the first day the clinic opened. But, he says, “By law, they could still be there. They decided to move on their own. They just didn’t want to deal with the protest in the community.” Squilla says it’s a testament to the power of an organized neighborhood.
Verdell, though, tells a different story: He says 15 or so men would loiter outside his office daily until police came, that his life was threatened, and that he had reason to fear violence against his staffers or even arson. He believes opponents “had issues with a black doctor in their community,” and that “the councilman got suckered into something really ugly, and so did L&I.” He added: “People were saying the place looked like Camden, and refused to accept the fact that the people we were treating were their own sons and daughters.”
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