With the stroke of a pen, Ohio Gov. John Kasich put $2.6 billion in capital projects into motion Friday across the state.
Included in that total was $600 million for public school construction, $483 for building projects at 47 public colleges, and about $200 million for mental health and addiction treatment facilities.
Here at home, the capital budget included $500,000 to help transform the former Golden Acres Nursing Home property in Amherst Township into an opioid recovery center.
The county-owned facility on North Ridge Road closed in late 2015 as commissioners struggled with finances. Now they are hoping that revamping the building will prove a game-changer in the fight against addiction.
The county needs a one-stop treatment facility so that anyone who is ready to fight their addiction head-on knows where they can go to receive help, said commissioner Matt Lundy.
Attaining state money is an important first step but he warned there are many more ahead. “This isn’t something where you improve a building and everything becomes a panacea overnight,” he said.
The total cost of the Golden Acres renovations are estimated at $850,000 with commissioners footing $200,000 and getting financial help from other partners. Lundy said appropriate federal and state funding is needed if Lorain County expects to make significant headway against the opioid epidemic.
Even with funding, addiction is not going away, he said: “This is a long-term challenge in the county… if it’s not heroin, it’s going to be something else. If it’s not opioids, it’s going to be something else.”
Elaine Georgas, president of the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board of Lorain County, is optimistic about what can be done from the site, which has been billed as “Recovery One.”
A partnership that includes ADAS, The LCADA Way, and the Lorain County Mental Health Board is working to determine exactly what the facility should include, whether it will focus on detox, long-term beds, support groups, therapy, or a mix of those services.
Georgas last toured the building in December and said she doesn’t believe it will require “monumental upgrades” but does need reconfigured. “It’s so big that there’s so many dreams we could put into there,” she said.
Lundy said the first step is to stabilize the utilities in the building. The furnace, air conditioning, and roof need work before other changes can be addressed.
In Georgas’ mind, it’s clear the center needs to serve at least as a triage point for those residents who need immediate help, whether that means a safe bed, comprehensive screening, or detox. Her vision includes at least a few beds for long-term treatment, including beds for families since some people who need help may have no safe place to leave their children.
She also envisions a facility that includes yoga, art therapy, and other non-traditional approaches to treatment.
An important step in achieving that vision will be reassuring neighbors who may be uneasy at the prospect of living near an addiction center. Georgas said such areas tend to be quiet and have lower crime because that’s the kind of environment that will put clients on the path to recovery.
Neighbors need to be included in discussions about the center’s development. Georgas said she wants to hold community meetings to get them involved.
The timeline for such development is unclear. Georgas said she could see it opening this year — “There are overdose deaths every day. There are people dying every day,” she said with an urgent note in her voice — but Lundy expects it to take longer. He said state money won’t be available for 90 days after the capital bill’s signing and there’s a lot of planning and paperwork to do in the meantime.
“I want us to expedite this as quickly as we can. The reality is with government funding there are strings attached and we have to follow all the state wants us to follow,” Lundy said.
Both thanked lawmakers for fighting for the $500,000 project.
Rep. Dan Ramos (D-Lorain), Rep. Dick Stein (R-Norwalk), Sen. Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville), and Rep. Nathan Manning (R-North Ridgeville) all played a critical role in advocating for the funding. They also showed bipartisan support for fighting the opioid epidemic.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.