By Kaitlyn Foti
NORRISTOWN >> Marie McCartney, director of the Montgomery County Recover Center, was trying to figure out Wednesday how she was going to remember 600 names.
McCartney was joined by Gov. Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health and Human Services Ted Dallas and other local and state officials for the announcement that the center was chosen for a grant that would allow it to double the number of patients from about 300 to 600.
“We know every one of their names. I make it a personal rule to know every one,” McCartney said. “The biggest challenge is how I’m going to learn the names of 600 patients.”
The center, formerly known as the Montgomery County Methadone Clinic, is now dealing with several of those sort of good problems, now that it has been recognized as one of the best 20 centers in the state. The distinction comes with up to $1 million in funding to help transition heroin and opioid addicts into recovery.
Wolf said 2,500 Pennsylvanians died of drug overdoses in 2015, and that number is supposed to be even higher this year.
“This isn’t just a medical epidemic. It’s a plague,” Wolf said.
The governor said that state officials from both sides of the aisle were part of an effort to set aside $15 million in the state budget to address the growing problem of opioid addiction in Pennsylvania. The state also leveraged $5.4 million in federal funding towards the programs.
“It’s affecting so many Pennsylvanians that no one can say I’m not affected by this. If you know somebody, or you’re affected by it personally, you have family or friends, neighbors. I think that’s making it that the need is perceived now,” Wolf said. “From a bipartisan point of view, Republicans, Democrats, senators, representatives, we all want to work together on this. Suspend partisan hostility and say let’s do something about this.”
The program designates “Centers of Excellence” around the state to provide with expansion funding. Of 116 applicants, the Montgomery County Recovery Center in Norristown was chosen as among the top 20.
Pennsylvania Secretary of Human Services Ted Dallas said that the program selected centers for the funding based on being able offer or connect patients to behavioral health programs, have the resources to expand quickly, and be able to tailor programs to different individuals.
“The governor mentioned that it’s not a one size fits all approach,” Dallas said. “I think if you take the quality and their ability to start up, those are the things we looked for.”
The newly renamed Montgomery County Recovery Center was until recently known as the Montgomery County Methadone Clinic, is considering moving to a larger space to accommodate the influx of patients the funding will allow them to take in. The name change, according to CEO Dyann Roth, was representative of the services beyond methadone that the center provides, including counseling and testing for HIV/AIDS.
“It better reflects our commitment to the whole person, and really helping someone on their journey of recovery,” Roth said.
Gov. Wolf and Secretary Dallas said that the progress made by the Centers of Excellence could help leverage more money in the future to fund similar programs.
“We’ll be tracking the results and we’ll be able to see how well we do here, and in the other 20 locations across the state,” Dallas said. “Hopefully this will become a model, not only for the rest of the state to follow on how to treat opioid use and substance abuse disorder, but maybe the whole country.”
The staff was applauded for their efforts to make the center one of the best in the state. Governor Wolf and Secretary Dallas were joined on stage by others supporting the work done by the center, including Montgomery County commissioners Val Arkoosh and Joe Gale, State Senator Art Haywood, D-4th District, and state representatives Mary Jo Daley, D-148th District and Tim Briggs, D-149th District. Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill, who runs the county’s Drug Court, was also there in support.
Of all the people there, it was McCartney who seemed to feel the most relief that the center would be able to take in more Montgomery County residents suffering from substance abuse. She said that she is always watchful of the center’s waitlist, always wanting to do more.
“Right now there are 30 people on the waitlist. They’re still out there on the street, they’re still using,” McCartney said. “It’s very hard to turn people away.”