Proposed drug clinic worries K’bridge neighbors

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Operators of a proposed drug abuse clinic have their sights set on conquering a corner of Kingsbridge, leaving Community Board 8 with a slew of unanswered questions — and some neighbors with a barrel of concerns.

Ekawa LLC wants to open at 5622 Broadway, the former home of the Conway fashion store, in the bustling heart of Kingsbridge. It bills itself as a new privately run outpatient drug and alcohol recovery center focusing on holistically treating patients recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, according to a proposal distributed at a Community Board 8 health, hospitals and social services meeting March 13.

Ekawa — “awake” backward — incorporates “evidence-based practices that are scientifically proven to have a positive impact on recovery,” according to the proposal. They rely on a team of “highly trained, multidisciplinary professionals” to create a step-by-step plan for patients, the goal being “long-term success.”

Their clients would be those struggling with addiction, from adolescents to adults. While the clinic says they’re aiming to charge a price that would be “accessible” to Kingsbridge’s middle-class population, they aren’t accepting Medicaid or “transient patients” — only self-paying clients and those with private insurance.

Ekawa also says it’ll reach out to the surrounding community — focusing on schools, universities, places of worship, as well as hospitals and other mental health providers — with classes and presentations on addiction.

The clinic would serve some 150 patients daily, and is badly needed in this part of the borough, amid an addiction epidemic that killed more than 1,300 people in the city last year, Ekawa said in its proposal, citing statistics from the city’s health department. That’s 20 out of 100,000 residents, a 46 percent increase from 2015.

But Ekawa anticipates there’ll also be payoff for neighboring businesses, since its patients will boost foot traffic in the area and spend money at local restaurants, retail stores and other establishments. Nor need neighbors fret over safety or parking concerns, because the clinic promises it will staff up on private security while renting more than a dozen adjacent parking spots for clients and staff in an attempt to minimize any skirmishes given already-scarce options.

But why might neighbors be riled up over a potential substance abuse clinic opening right up the block from where they live and work?

“‘Not in my backyard,’” said medical director Dr. Joseph D’Amore, who says he’s been practicing medicine since 1984, with three decades of Bronx experience.

But D’Amore believes that with the opioid epidemic having ramped up over the last couple decades — and expected to worsen this year, particularly in the city — “No one is safe.”

“It’s reached small towns,” just as it’s devastated big cities and sprawling suburbs, he said. “We all have stories. We all know people.”

And with heroin and illicit fentanyl deaths ravaging communities locally and across the United States, “it’s now gotten its own little business going,” D’Amore said. “This is a market, and if it’s not here, in this community, it will be soon.”

Daily operational hours would run from 6 a.m., to 2 p.m., with at least three clinical counselors, along with other staff — a minimum of 10. D’Amore would oversee operations. Most visits at the facility would last an hour, but could take longer if a nutritionist needs to be involved.

Still, CB8 chair Rosemary Ginty and some committee members weren’t having it at face value, with several questions — like exactly how long the lease would be for, and names of the partners — not immediately answered. But the clinic promised to share more information ahead of the committee’s next meeting in April.

“I think that there does need to be some additional information,” Councilman Andrew Cohen said. “I really am concerned about the impact on the commercial corridor. Broadway is on the rebound. I hope if this comes to pass that it doesn’t slow that growth down.”

And residents like David Pereira, who lives near the 50th Precinct, remained unsettled.

“Anything could overflow” affecting neighboring homes and businesses, he said. Plus, the area already is congested with a lot of traffic. “I’m just concerned about the atmosphere that” all those patients in and out of Ekawa, every day, “might create.”

Meanwhile, former Independent Democratic Conference leader Jeffrey Klein represented Ekawa through his new lobbying firm, Mercury Public Affairs, telling the committee the clinic has yet to apply for a license from the state’s Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services office. But when it does, D’Amore will hold that license.

It can take three to four months for the state agency to grant the license, Klein added.

Methadone is one of “many treatments” the clinic is looking to offer, Klein said, as a kind of last resort. But Ekawa also would incorporate what’s called a drug-free model, mostly group or individualized therapy, as well as treatment using Suboxone, a medication often prescribed to people battling opioid addiction.

“This is not a cookie-cutter approach for substance abuse,” Klein told The Riverdale Press. “We are actually going to develop a program for an individual patient. And I believe that the majority of those patients probably would not be on methadone. That would be only the most severe cases of addiction.”

Regardless of the approach a patient takes to recovery, D’Amore believes the clinic is long overdue in this part of the borough given what he says is a dearth of treatment options — and the opioid epidemic doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

“It can affect anyone at any time,” D’Amore said. “No one’s safe from it. I’m not here for monetary reasons. I’m here because it’s personal. I’ve buried a lot of people in my life to drugs. I’m a New York City resident my whole life, and I’ve seen it affect everybody, everywhere.”

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