North Coast Recovery, part of a dwindling number of outpatient drug and alcohol treatment options in Clatsop County, is in danger of closing because of a lack of money.
Wendy Hemsley, who opened the treatment center on 30th Street in Astoria’s Mill Pond neighborhood two years ago, said she met late last week with her staff to let them know she could no longer afford to pay them. Most have agreed to keep coming in as volunteers for at least a couple of weeks while she seeks a path forward.
The treatment center has about 25 patients, Hemsley said, with about half being treated for free on scholarship.
She said her transitional housing, provided in two houses for male and female patients in Astoria, is key to successfully treating patients lacking stability.
“We’re operational because we’re in compliance,” she said. “I just can’t afford to pay anyone.”
If North Coast Recovery closes, Hemsley said, she could face six months trying to become relicensed with the state. Like other treatment providers, she blames lackluster coverage by insurers and high deductibles faced by patients for making treatment unaffordable.
“We are putting barriers for treatment, and it’s not coming from providers, but I cannot have a business that is bleeding money,” she said.
Roanna Sollars, a counselor at North Coast Recovery, is one of Hemsley’s employees who agreed to stay on pro bono and collect unemployment while she seeks more funding.
“They are worth staying on for,” Sollars said of the patients. “They are worth fighting for. Most of these individuals, we’re all they have at the moment.”
Brandon Denmark, 25, said he moved to the North Coast from Florida to escape an environment riddled with crime and drugs. He’s sought treatment and relapsed multiple times.
“Other places wouldn’t allow me back, or wouldn’t treat me without insurance,” he said. “This place is different.”
North Coast Recovery took Denmark on for free and put him up in transitional housing. He now has one year sober, a full-time job, studies at Clatsop Community College, recently rented his first apartment and is scheduled to graduate from treatment early next month.
Sunspire Health closed Astoria Pointe and Rosebriar last year for undisclosed reasons, leaving Clatsop County with no inpatient treatment centers. North Coast Recovery is part of a dwindling number of outpatient options.
Klean Treatment Centers, an outpatient treatment facility that rented sober-living apartments on Alameda Avenue in Astoria, was recently evicted from its offices and housing by landlord Sean Fitzpatrick, who is suing the company for unpaid rent. Klean also shut down its inpatient treatment center in Long Beach, Washington, amid a federal lawsuit brought by creditors who allege they are owed $8 million.
Sunspire and Klean provided no reason for their troubles, although other providers have pointed toward the same financial difficulties faced by Hemsley.
“Talk to any treatment center,” Hemsley said. “The commercial payer policies are making it impossible to operate. The overhead is pretty high. These professionals aren’t cheap, and they’re required to operate.”
Hemsley has reached out to legislators and Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare, the county’s mental health and substance abuse treatment contractor, about creating an all-in-one center providing drug, alcohol and mental health treatment for patients on private insurance or Medicaid.
“If we can show successful outcome measures and save money, we can replicate this in other places,” she said.
Hemsley has also reached for more help from Craft3, which provided North Coast Recovery with initial funding. But Walt Postlewait, executive vice president with Craft3, said her business model, although altruistic, can’t be salvaged with more loans.
“Without some sort of change — either the community understanding the importance of providing for the residents in need, or a change in both the public and private insurance providers — I have low confidence that Wendy has a resilient business,” he said.
Hemsley said she is not kicking people out of the transitional housing and won’t give up on trying to find a sustainable model to help patients.
“I’m hoping I don’t have to temporarily close, but if so, I will find a new avenue,” she said.