Recently I was made aware of a proposed, new, residential treatment center right here in my own backyard on the mid-Peninsula of the San Francisco Bay Area. For one reason or another residential addiction treatment is conspicuously few and far between here especially on the mid-Peninsula, which is equidistant from San Jose and San Francisco. The region is San Mateo County very near where Silicon Valley lives and thrives.
Among the 40 million people nation-wide, it is estimated there are approximately 66,000 individuals in San Mateo County alone who need addiction treatment and who fall somewhere on the spectrum of treatment needs from detoxification to continued care. The county now has less than 300 beds for residential treatment. Residential treatment is not indicated for everyone who enters addiction treatment, but certainly more than 300 beds are required in this county to meet the needs of 21st Century addiction treatment care.
The name of the proposed facility is Stillpath Recovery Center. It is located in an unincorporated 16 acres of San Mateo County above Woodside, California in the coastal mountain range. The owner purchased what was Stillheart Retreat Center where weekend retreats were conducted on this world-class destination of a venue.
I was so enthusiastic to learn about this project, I contacted the owner to ask if I might see the site and learn more about his approach. He was very generous with his time and invited me on two occasions to visit Stillpath and to learn what the project meant to addiction treatment in the Bay Area.
The place is a veritable vortex for healing. Surrounded by the nature from which it and we all emerge, while visiting and now, I cannot get over the quintessential perfection of what such a venue could mean for the Bay Area and addiction treatment/recovery. The site is not visible from the road and clearly far away from any neighboring concerns as the land parcels are quite large in the area.
I learned that the center would follow 21st Century brain science protocols outlined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. A place for applied brain science, brain health to be practiced and realized right here in my own backyard. From integrated nutrition and functional movement to cutting edge psychological approaches–the stuff of addiction recovery.
The staff would be an integrated, multidisciplinary, communicative team of professionals dedicated to this work. I learned that the cost for such treatment could be reimbursed in large part by insurance through the advent of new coverage available via the current health reform legislation, The Affordable Care and Mental Health Parity acts.
I also learned that Stillpath would add 76 beds to the residential treatment potential to address the embarrassing deficit in San Mateo County not to mention the remainder of the nation.
I asked what I could do to help. The owner asked me if I would attend the next San Mateo County Board of Supervisors session as an addiction treatment and recovery advocate. The project, which had already received approval from the planning commision, (this approval being appealed by the local residents) was on the agenda to be approved or struck down by the supes. All of the concerns including traffic, zoning, water consumption, fire hazards and more were addressed in the planning commission’s approval. I looked forward to standing up for a potentially life saving project and for something that could raise the bar and the self-esteem of addiction treatment in our beautiful, trendsetting Bay Area.
Addiction Treatment? Okay, but…
The Board of Supervisor’s session took nearly 3 hours to come to a conclusion. Approximately 50 to 60 people attended equally representing the applicant, Stillpath Recovery Center and the local residents and their representatives who adamantly opposed the project. After each perspective’s representatives were given time to make their cases beginning with the planning commission’s detailed report for approval, the public was allowed 2 minute testimonials when 30 of us, one after another, stood up and spoke to our concerns and why we were there.
The local residents spoke to the planning commission’s report as being incomplete and largely incredible. One young woman repeatedly called the attorney and other members of the applicant’s team liars. Most of the testimony against the approval had to do with comments, (including one supervisor) relative to statistics about “addicts” smoking cigarettes, which will lead to forest fires and trespassing, “Everyone knows how addicts are, it’s from one addiction to another–they’ll smoke.”…This, in the face of the applicant testifying it would be a non-smoking center where resident’s personal belongings are searched as part of addiction treatment protocol. Another woman stood up and said her own family was involved with addiction treatment and how she believed in it, but…not here, please, not here in her own backyard.
In the opening presentation, Stillpath’s Clinical Director had already clearly addressed and answered questions regarding staffing/resident ratios. She discussed the nuances of the social model proposed incorporating the highest standard of practice concerning medical presence and monitoring.
The other testimonials in favor of the project including me, spoke to the dire need for such a treatment facility especially one we can all be proud of in an area where the best health care in the world for other health issues–including other chronic illnesses–is available.
People spoke to the pristine record of other similar centers and the prospect of this center aligning with outpatient centers and continued care services. A dream come true with a perfect place to live the dream. We spoke to the heart of addiction as many people stood up and talked about the ravages and deaths in their families or how residential treatment saved their lives. We heard from experts in the field to a son who had lost his Dad and a Dad who had lost his son.
We Get Letters That Say, “Not in my Backyard”
Finally all that needed to be said and heard was complete except closing comments by each side. Closing comments were given by a representative from each side including the attorney for the opposition declaring the proceedings were done all wrong and elaborated categorically. The attorney for the applicant’s side asked for a continuance until the 3 out of 5 supervisors who had not taken the time to visit the site could do so. One of those 3 supervisors spoke up to say she didn’t need to see the site or tour the specifics of what and why the planning commission had already approved the project, that she knew all about it and where it was…
The board then closed the formal proceedings and moved to a vote. Each of the supervisors cited an overwhelming number of letters and emails they had received or heard about asking not to approve the project, IE, addiction treatment is fine, just not in my backyard.
The board voted unanimously to strike down the applicant’s project, Stillpath Recovery Center.
One of the representatives for the local residents was interviewed after the session and was quoted as saying, “I do believe the supervisors really did listen,” she said. “I really think they got it.”
I really believe the supervisors listened too. And I really believe they, as representatives of the culture, and at some very key and core level, continue to perpetuate the conundrum instead of offering proactive, collaborative solutions in this set of circumstances where the benefits clearly outweighed any mitigatable risks.
Addiction is a Cultural Phenomenon
Addiction is our number one public health challenge in the United States today in epidemic proportions. The cost of untreated addiction in terms of lost productivity, related health issues, and multi-generational social and psychological consequences, is staggering.
The potential residents of the proposed, Stillpath Recovery Center ARE the friends, family, co-workers and neighbors of the people in opposition to its approval. Addiction is a cultural phenomenon, and until we have leadership with vision, ready and willing to champion solutions for this now 21st Century plague of ours, we’ll keep getting what we’re getting; more addiction accompanied by the incessant denial that it lives in all of our backyards.
Surely, the culture that produces addiction can step up to the facts that if we are not all part of the problem, there is no solution.