The city Board of Estimates will vote on a 15-year lease at the Hebrew Orphan Asylum at 2700 Rayner Avenue in West Baltimore on Wednesday. Baltimore officials plan to transform the building into a drug rehabilitation center that will serve an estimated 30 patients at a time.
A company, which Coppin Heights Community Development Corp. owns, will assume the role as the center’s landlord. The nonprofit assumed responsibility of the center, when Coppin State University handed over the reins to them in 2015. The group’s executive director, Gary Rodwell, said the plan was to lease it to a healthcare provider, which did not happen.
The historic building will undergo a $15 million renovation, which state-issued bonds and donations will fund.
The city’s goal is to lighten the load on local hospitals as the city faces an ongoing overdose death and drug abuse crisis. Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore’s health commissioner, said, “treating individuals that have a substance use disorder with the same urgency and compassion as we would any other disease.”
In 2016, drug overdoses were linked to 700 deaths in Baltimore, most of which involved Fentanyl-laced heroin. Health officials believe that nearly 25,000 people in Baltimore are abusing such opioids.
Local and state health officials have joined forces to obtain naloxone for emergency crews, police, family, and friends of people who are utilizing drugs. Wen announced a warning several weeks ago that the city’s stock of naloxone is getting low.
“It is frustrating that we know what works when it comes to saving lives from overdose and providing treatment,” Wen said. “We just need the resources to achieve it.”
If the $275,000-a-year lease is approved, it would be an essential step in bringing the rehabilitation center to completion, but there are some obstacles standing in the way. It is doubtful the center will even be open before next summer.
The city would probably select a contractor to oversee the operation of the stabilization center.
To qualify for treatment at the center, patients would not require more extensive care than is available in a hospital setting. The patient would be given six to eight hours to detox with the supervision of a nurse. A case manager would be responsible for connecting the patients to medical treatment, offering them other services, and helping find them insurance.
Upon discharge, the patients would be asked to stay in contact with the medical staff at the center for up to 30 days.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh has questioned the logic of having drug treatment facilities in the community, saying it could potentially put pressure on neighborhoods that are already struggling.
“My solution is looking at drug addiction as an illness, creating treatment around hospitals that are not bumped up against neighborhoods and communities,” Pugh said.