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Citizens to Maintain Gray Plan Meeting to Discuss Methadone Clinic Site Concerns

A Washington County commissioner said Friday that he and many other Gray residents feel like they have been blindsided by a punch.

Mark Larkey was referring to Wednesday’s announcement that East Tennessee State University and Mountain States Health Alliance will pursue opening an addiction treatment clinic at 203 Gray Commons Circle Road that would include the use of methadone and buprenorphine.

“We had no idea about it until I read it in the newspaper,” Larkey said.

Now, Larkey along with Danny Sells, organizer of the group “Citizens to Maintain Gray,” will hold a public meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday in the cafeteria of Ridgeview Elementary School to discuss the community’s concerns about the location of the medication-assisted treatment clinic.

“This issue, in my opinion, has created more concern throughout the community than the annexation issue did,” Larkey said.

Sells estimated 75 to 100 people have expressed concerns to either him or a county commissioner.

“Basically everybody I’ve talked to has expressed very real concerns about (the clinic) being in the area,” Sells said.

Larkey said he’s also dealt with several calls and emails from concerned residents.

The treatment center’s location and lack of public input are the two main concerns Sells said have irritated himself and people in the community.

“(Tenn.) Highway 75 is a very, very busy road going to four schools in the area. ... So a lot of traffic bringing students in and out on a regular basis,” Sells said.

The proposed site of the addiction treatment clinic is 1.4 miles from Daniel Boone High School, 1.8 miles from Gray Elementary School and 2.3 miles from Ridgeview.

“The residents of Gray are of the strong opinion that this isn’t a good choice of location due to its close proximity of schools where 2,658 students attend daily,” Larkey said.

Sells also mentioned the large amount of commuters who travel Tenn. 75 to get to Interstate 26 in the morning, when most methadone clinics are the busiest.

“We would encourage them to locate this center somewhere else, a more central location to Johnson City, closer to other medical facilities with much less of a predominately residential nature of the surrounding community,” Larkey said.

Gray may eventually get an opportunity to voice its opposition, according to Joe Grandy, Washington County commissioner and a board member of the Health Services and Development Agency — the board that approves or denies certificates of need applications.

Grandy was appointed by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey as a consumer representative for the board.

Grandy said he could not enter discussion or even listen to discussion about the clinic due to his position as a HSDA board member.

Grandy did say every time the HSDA reviews a certificate of need application it holds a public hearing, which would allow Gray residents to voice their concerns.

The date for the hearing will be available after the certificate of need is filed with the HSDA on or before Tuesday.

ETSU President Brian Noland said during Wednesday’s announcement that the location was selected because of its central location to residents in Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City.

When asked if he believed the clinic’s site was in a location the community could rally around because of it being away from residential and commercial areas, Noland said yes during the announcement.

“The team of Mountain States and ETSU faculty really conducted a lot of due diligence as we were examining options with respect to the location of the facility,” Noland said.

Mountain States CEO Alan Levine said, “Related to the location, we’ve been listening to the community. This has been an issue that has been ongoing for several years now. I think people have legitimate concerns about location, about proximity to schools, businesses and residential areas. We understand that. So you have to balance the fact that this is an accepted treatment model supported by evidence with the issues the community has raised that are reasonable.”

Sells said he only opposed the site’s location and not the efforts by ETSU and Mountain States to deter the drug epidemic in the region

Sells said Citizens to Maintain Gray would look at all available options in order to change the center’s location.

“We will be trying to figure out how we do that, whether it’s related to the zoning board of appeals or what happens in Nashville relative to the certificate of need,” Sells said. “At this point, we’re still trying to figure out exactly what the issues are, how to approach those things and what would be appropriate opposition.’’

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