Amity Center lease under review

PARKERSBURG – A lease between the Wood County Commission and Westbrook Health Services’ Amity Center is being reviewed after Westbrook announced it no longer will be providing a public intoxication shelter at the facility.

Meeting with commissioners Monday, JoAnn Powell, Westbrook director, said the facility is one of eight in the state providing a public intoxication shelter. Amity Center also provides detoxification and substance abuse treatment services and Westbrook officials said they would like to expand the detox/treatment parts of the program and remain in the existing facility.

The building where Amity Center operates out of for the past 19 years is owned by the county. Powell said the public intox shelter was started after the regional jails opened up.

“One of the stipulations of the county’s lease is that the center would provide the public intoxication shelter,” Prosecutor Jason Wharton said. “If they cease to provide those services, the county could decide to re-lease, or take the facility back.”

Powell said there were concerns over staff security and the grant funding the shelter receives expires at the end of December.

Westbrook will not again apply, she said. The agency is not eligible because of new requirements, so it would cease providing those services, Powell.

Powell said prior to the creation of the public intox shelter, those arrested on public intoxication-related charges were taken to their homes to get sober.

“You’re not having that shelter creates a problem for us and we have to decide what we want to do,” commission President Wayne Dunn said.

Wharton told the commissioners not having the facility available would most likely result in more expense for the county including additional charges that could be filed against uncooperative defendants, increases in the number of individuals being taken to the Holding Center and if they cannot make bond, an increase in the county’s regional jail bill.

Westbrook receives more than $100,000 for the public intoxication shelter. Last year there were 358 residents through the shelter.

As a possible option, Powell said Westbrook, as of July, has begun to set aside more inpatient beds for Wood County residents.

“There are a certain number of inpatient beds set aside for the criminal justice system, and the center could make arrangements to set aside more of those beds to serve Wood County, which is the largest of the eight counties we serve,” Powell said. “We started doing that as of July.”

There is a large number of people in jail waiting to get into the center for treatment services, Wharton said. The county is paying the regional jail system until a treatment bed is available, he said.

“If there were 10 more beds set aside to the criminal justice system, that would amount to a savings of about $13,510 in the regional jail bill,” Wharton said.

Out of the 48 beds, based on you giving us the building, we could commit 34 for charity cases from Wood County,” Powell said.

“I see nothing but good if you expand your detox/treatment programs, but we still have to decide about the public intoxication shelter and how to take care of this issue,” Dunn said.

The commissioners then voted to go into executive session with Wharton under the exemption to the Open Meetings Law which allows for a closed door session to discuss property. Following the executive session, the commissioners authorized Wharton to meet with Powell to “craft a new lease agreement with Westbrook.”

The new agreement is to include a provision that additional inpatient beds will be dedicated to Wood County and Westbrook officials will provide quarterly reports to the county commission.

“Let’s put this on the agenda within the next two weeks and once we have a new agreement we can review it to make sure we are going in the right direction,” Couch said.

Commissioner Steve Gainer asked Powell why she had waited so long to come to the commission about the problem.

Powell said she’d been meeting with officials since August. The initial meetings were with city of Parkersburg law enforcement officials.

The public intoxication shelter houses individuals arrested for public intoxication or under the influence of drugs. The facility also provides a place to house mental hygiene commitments while they await commitment proceedings.

Amity Center’s program is a 28-day medical detoxification and residential treatment program for adults, patients are referred for longer-term treatment.