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Ekawa backs out of plans to open Broadway treatment facility

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Ekawa Holistic Medicine is calling it quits on its proposed substance abuse treatment facility at 5622 Broadway.

Company officials pulled the plug late Sunday morning after what had been weeks of controversy surrounding the clinic and concerns by some over what kind of people it would bring into the Kingsbridge neighborhood.

But those same officials — including Ekawa chief executive Joseph Francis D’Amore, didn’t leave without taking some swings at Community Board 8 and elected officials, who had overwhelmingly opposed the facility.

“It is sad and unfortunate that in 2019, after experiencing the worst drug crisis since the crack epidemic of the ‘90s, local elected officials and community leaders are as intolerant of today’s sufferers as those who grew up under the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws,” D’Amore said in a statement. “Addiction is a disease — it is not a character defect — a disease that affects every family, every demographic, and yes, affects Riverdale and Kingsbridge, too.”

Ekawa’s executives argued the facility was needed because the Kingsbridge-Riverdale health district has the 15th worst fatal opioid overdose rate out of the city’s 42 health districts, according to the city’s health department. But elected officials and community board members raised objections about Ekawa’s financial situation, ill-prepared presentations, connection to alleged shady characters, and impact on the local business district.

State Sens. Alessandra Biaggi and Gustavo Rivera also were frustrated Ekawa would only accept private insurance and out-of-pocket payment, and not Medicaid or Medicare. They joined the likes of Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, Councilman Andrew Cohen and U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat to write letters of opposition or concern to the state’s office of substance and alcohol abuse, which is responsible for certifying substance abuse treatment centers.

Community Board 8 health, hospitals and social services committee chair Omar Murray also wrote a letter on April 19 to the same state office, outlining the committee’s objections. After learning of Ekawa’s decision, Murray said he believed the concerns of the community board were valid and Ekawa’s inability to address those concerns was worrying.

“The community has spoken, the elected officials have spoken,” Murray said. “If they felt they were in the right and they were doing things on the up-and-up, I don’t see (why they’re) backing out.”

But D’Amore said ignoring the death rate would not make the opioid epidemic go away, and that treatment centers like the one Ekawa had proposed on Broadway are vital.

“It is even more heartbreaking that those who are suffering right here will continue to do so in silence and shame, and be denied the kind of treatment that Ekawa could offer them to allow them to regain their lives and remain in their own communities,” D’Amore said in a statement. “Denial is as dangerous to recovery as ignorance. Ekawa would love to provide hope and a future for the suffering, but it cannot work with a community that continues to live in the past and refuses to acknowledge the reality of addiction.”

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