SEQUIM — The community group Save Our Sequim, which was organized to protest the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s proposed medication-assisted treatment clinic on Ninth Avenue in Sequim, offered their concerns about the project to local legislators.
Members of the group gave a presentation to 24th District state legislators Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, and Reps. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, and Steve Tharinger, D-Port Townsend, at the Sequim City Council chambers on Wednesday.
Prior to the presentation, Van De Wege noted the session would be only an opportunity for the legislators to listen, with no discussion planned.
The state Legislature approved funding last year for the initial phase of the tribe’s planned “healing campus” to treat opioid addiction — considered by health authorities to be at a crisis level on the North Olympic Peninsula — on 19.5 acres it has purchased on the west side of Sequim. The land is zoned by the city for multiple uses, including medical. Olympic Medical Center and other medical entities are in support of the treatment center.
The city is awaiting an application for a permit from the tribe.
The clinic will dispense daily doses of methadone, Suboxone and Vivitrol in a closed, fenced setting, the tribe has said. A clinic of some 17,000 square feet is planned in the first phase, to be followed by a second phase, now unfunded, that would expand the clinic to about 25,000 feet.
Save Our Sequim claims 2,510 members on its Facebook page. In December, members presented a petition opposing the clinic that they said was signed by 2,600 people.
Jodi Wilke, the group’s leader, specifically asked the legislators on Wednesday to withdraw support for the clinic until a study on the clinic’s social impact on Sequim can be performed.
Wilke and other SOS members said they did not trust statements made by tribal representatives about the clinic, told of the social and safety impacts on Sequim that they expect the clinic would have and talked about financial aspects of the clinic.
They repeatedly said the tribe would be able to claim $455 in compensation as an “encounter fee” for each person who seeks treatment every day, saying that would total $141,960 a year for each client who is treated six days a week — a number they said was equivalent to three EMT salaries for the fire department.
Tribal officials have said there is no one rate for all people.
“We’re not going to bring in anything close” to those numbers, said Brent Simcosky, the tribe’s health services director.
MAT treatment is covered by Medicaid, which tribal officials expect to cover 75 percent to 80 percent of the clients. The tribe has higher reimbursement rates, which allows the tribe to provide add-on services other centers possibly can’t afford, they have said.
Any excess revenue will go back into health care,” Simcosky said.
SOS members brought up several times a claim that the clinic was being initially set up to treat up to 300 patients, and that since they don’t believe there are 300 opioid addicts in Sequim that means it is inevitable that the clinic will seek to “import” addicts from elsewhere in the state.
Tribal officials have said that eventually they expect the clinic to treat 250 patients a day, but that it will take more than two years to get to that level. Also, the clinic has been intended from the beginning to treat those living in Clallam and Jefferson counties who request help, tribal officials have said; all clients would be voluntary.
Several SOS speakers said it doesn’t make sense to open a clinic in Sequim when several clinics already exist in Port Angeles, an area they said has a much greater need for such treatment.
Several of the SOS presenters, including Wilke and Robin Pangborn, who said she used to run a homeless shelter in Atlanta, referred to a book written by Rachel Greene Baldino in 2001 called “Welcome to Methadonia: A Social Worker’s Candid Account of Life in a Methadone Clinic.”
Baldino, a former social worker in Baltimore, wrote the book of her time working as a counselor in a methadone clinic. Her book recommends changes to the treatment system.
Speaking after the meeting, Chapman said he would examine the information presented to the legislators, but added that he felt that getting directly involved is outside of his authority.
“Our job was to vote on the funding package that this clinic was part of,” Chapman said. “It was one of a number of similar projects included in that, and it passed almost unanimously, which I was proud of.
“But to step in more directly on a local matter like this isn’t really something I can do. There are records of the zoning process that happened, and the land is privately owned by the tribe.
“Anything issues stemming from that would be up to city or county authorities to resolve.”
Van De Wege and Tharinger were not available for comment after the meeting.
Speaking after the meeting, Wilke said that she hoped the legislators would “show leadership” and “take this seriously.”
“I’m glad we’re finally being given an opportunity to be heard,” she added.
Wilke also expressed disappointment at the lack of feedback given by the legislators and the short turnaround SOS had to prepare their presentation, saying they found out only last Thursday that the meeting would be taking place. She also criticized the City of Sequim for not giving the group earlier access to the council chambers to set up its presentation.
Conor Dowley is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].