Vergennes to host a drug treatment center: Valley Vista finally set for Alden Place

VERGENNES — Years after Valley Vista initially intended to operate in Vergennes, officials of the Bradford dependency treatment center now hope to open their doors at 1 Alden Place in Vergennes in a matter of weeks to help Vermonters suffering from drug and alcohol addiction.
Valley Vista’s urgency is being prompted by January’s state-ordered closure of Underhill’s Maple Leaf Treatment Center, a 41-bed facility that had been serving drug- and alcohol-dependent adults since 1956. State officials said they took that action following undisclosed complaints and a subsequent investigation.
Those 41 beds comprised about 30 percent of the inpatient beds in Vermont treatment centers, for which state officials said there were already waiting lists.
Valley Vista has 80 beds in Bradford, including the only nine beds in the state reserved for teens, and Serenity House in Wallingford offers 24 beds.
Valley Vista co-owner Rick DeStefano said Vermont is feeling the loss of Maple Leaf at a time the state is increasingly struggling with heroin and opioid dependency.
“We were deeply saddened that Maple Leaf closed,” DeStefano said. “We feel the need is great. We continued to have a waiting list when Maple Leaf was open.”
He said work remains to be done, but there seem to be few barriers to Valley Vista opening soon at 1 Alden Place, a 19-bed, 9,100-square-foot former nursing home. The building sits on a cul-de-sac at the very northern edge of the city’s downtown, overlooking a ravine.
“Our hopes are that we are up and running and that beds are available no later than the first of April. We obviously have a lot to do between now and then. Not so much to the facility, the facility is surprisingly in very nice shape,” DeStefano said. “We’ve kept it heated and kept the water on so there have been no problems for the last couple of years. It needs a little cosmetic work and a couple things here and there.”
The building, which last housed the Briarwood Manor nursing home, has sat vacant since June 2010 when, doing business as the Alden Place Residential Care Home LLC, the Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living revoked its license in for 23 alleged violations of state code.
Valley Vista about two-and-a-half years later started negotiating with building owner John Laberge, but the sale was contentious and nearly fell through in 2014, when both sides hired attorneys — it did not close until January 2015, when Valley Vista paid $1,068,317.81.
Valley Vista is already permitted in Vergennes. During the sales process, Vergennes City Manager and Zoning Administrator Mel Hawley ruled the proposed use of the building was a continuation of its former use, that of a nursing home, which is an allowed conditional use in that district.
“From a zoning standpoint it’s a nursing home,” Hawley said this week.
According to the city zoning regulations a nursing home is a “building where four or more individuals are housed and furnished with meals and nursing or convalescent care.”
Hawley said also that, unless there is a use change, a permit remains in force, although any expansion of operations would require a new or altered permit.
“We keep track of the last use of the property,” he said.
Vergennes Development Review Board Chairman Jason Farrell this week said he agreed with Hawley’s opinion.
DeStefano said what Valley Vista still must obtain is a “Certificate of Need” to operate at 1 Alden Place. That is essentially a state permit that would be issued by the Green Mountain Care Board. Given Valley Vista’s track record in Bradford and Vermont’s treatment needs, he is optimistic that certificate will be granted soon.
“The process is in the works with the state of Vermont and the Green Mountain Care Board to get an emergency Certificate of Need, which we believe is not a problem,” DeStefano said. “We’re talking with a number of folks who are doing everything they can to make this process happen very quickly.”
Back in 2013 and 2014, Valley Vista’s plans for 1 Alden Place focused on expanding its treatment of adolescent girls, specifically on helping teens who practice self-injurious behaviors, such as cutting.
Now, DeStefano said, Valley Vista will be shifting gears to meet the need created when Maple Leaf was shuttered.
“We’re going to do what’s needed to treat Vermonters,” he said. “Right now it appears that’s the adult population.”
Given the size of the building, 1 Alden Place will treat either men or women, but not both, DeStefano said, and probably — but not certainly — women.
“It will be a gender-specific program,” he said. “It’s most likely at this point it will be women.”
The program will offer a “very high level of psychiatry,” he said.
“We are a program that really tries to meet the needs of folks that also have issues around mental health,” DeStefano said.
Nurses and therapists will work 24-7, he said, with “psychiatry available as needed for patients.”
As is the case with Valley Vista’s 80-bed building in Bradford, patients will not be locked in.
 “It will be a staff-secured building. There’s no need for it to be a locked building,” DeStefano said.
He added there have been few, if any, local issues with Valley Vista’s 80-bed Bradford building.
“We have been operating a much larger facility with little or no concerns,” he said.
DeStefano said response was favorable at a Feb. 16 open house attended by several city officials as well as a number of residents and job-seekers.
He estimated Valley Vista would need 23 full-time employees and another seven to nine part-time workers. On the company’s wish list are dieticians, nurses, therapists, housekeepers and physicians.
“It’s a pretty good range of employment opportunities there,” DeStefano said.
Valley Vista plans another open house soon in which residents and potential employees alike will be welcome.
“We’ll be looking at doing something again similar in the next couple weeks,” DeStefano said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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