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Gray Addiction Clinic Remains on Schedule, Van Huss Files Liability Bill to Alleviate Concerns

As both anticipation and wariness mount ahead of the imminent opening of the Gray addiction treatment clinic, supporters and critics alike have seen developments in their corner.

Officials have signed off on final renovation plans for the 203 Gray Commons Circle facility, bringing the clinic a step closer to opening. And on Feb. 9, a state lawmaker filed a bill he says will protect constituents concerned about the clinic’s impact on Gray.

Woodridge CEO Lindy White said Friday that in the past 45 to 60 days, officials in the Mountain States Health Alliance and East Tennessee State University partnership have concentrated on the design and renovation needs of the facility.

Jointly operating under East Tennessee Healthcare Holdings Inc., MSHA and university officials estimate the clinic will take up 7,851 square feet in the building once renovations are completed.

Just last week, officials signed off on final renovation plans, White said, which will be bid on in the coming weeks. That renovation work is expected to begin in April.

Projections show the clinic taking in 60 new patients per month during its first year, and in year two, it will max out at between 1,100 and 1,200 patients, with each patient paying approximately $13 per day for methadone treatments.

Another priority for the clinic in the coming weeks and months will be hiring an on-site medical director and program director. White said she hopes to have the medical director position filled by the end of April.

“That position will be an independent-contracted position and we’ve posted that position in several journals and in areas where folks go to look for those types of openings,” White said. “They’ll be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the clinic.”

White said officials have conducted interviews with three potential information system vendors.

“The software associated with the operations of this type of medication-assisted treatment is pretty specific and extremely helpful in us being able to manage patient flow and compliance,” White said. “We are in the process of choosing that vendor.”

Although some in the region may be anxious to begin their treatment regime at the Tri-Cities’ first methadone clinic, White said the clinic isn’t quite ready to launch a patient queue.

“Once we get our program director on site, we’ll be able to more closely track those patients that have an interest, and begin creating that list of patients that want to get started as soon as possible,” White said.

“We’ll do something to let them know the phone number where they can call in and ask for an appointment.

That will probably come in that May or June timeline.”

With the clinic moving toward what White estimated would be an opening by the end of July or beginning of August, Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, filed a bill Feb. 9 to confront the concerns of Gray residents.

House Bill 1033 would make outpatient addiction treatment clinics liable for damage or injuries caused by a patient who leaves impaired due to treatment and commits driving under the influence, vehicular assault, aggravated vehicular assault, vehicular homicide or aggravated vehicular homicide.

“It is imperative that we protect our citizens from companies that seek to degrade their communities. I am working hard to pass legislation that protects my constituents,” Van Huss said in an email to the Johnson City Press.

A subsection of the bill does provide clinics with a defense if its staff took “reasonable efforts” to prevent the patient from driving, such as calling a taxi to drive the patient or immediately notifying law enforcement about an impaired patient.

Research published on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that methadone’s effect on driving ability can be complex.

According to a German traffic council recommendation quoted in that research, “Heroin addicts treated with methadone are generally not fit to drive; however, these patients may be considered fit to drive if they show a period of methadone substitution for more than a year; stable psychosocial integration; no evidence of the consumption of additional psy­chotropic substances; evidence of a subject’s readiness to feel responsible for himself/herself; therapy compliance; and no evidence of serious personality defects.”

Regardless of the bill’s passage, White said the clinic would have safeguards in place to prevent impaired patients from driving.

“We’re committed No. 1 to safety. We’ve committed to those safeguards being in place for our clinic from the very beginning,” White said.

“We take that very seriously in our current locations and in our emergency departments. ... We always, at a highly reliable rate, ensure that if we know about impairment or we know that a patient is impaired, we’re going to go the extra length to make sure they don’t leave in a car.”

Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, is carrying the legislation in the state Senate, where it has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill would take effect on July 1, 2017.

In its certification documents approved by the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency, East Tennessee Healthcare Holdings is set to invest roughly $1.7 million in renovations. Those funds will initially stem from Mountain States’ cash reserves, with reimbursement coming from patient revenues.

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