Relocated Hagerstown mental-health clinic draws fire
The Herald-Mail - 5/11/2017
An outpatient mental-health clinic on North Potomac Street has relocated to a larger space, but the move hasn't excited some city officials who say the increased capacity could further damage the downtown image and revitalization efforts.
Change Health Systems opened in a new larger space on Monday at 7 N. Potomac St., doubling the available space for the clinic's behavioral health, psychiatric and wellness programs, according to Tasha Walls, assistant program manager.
"In the past, we had approximately 10 clinical rooms, and we did not have a group room," Walls said. "Now, we have 20 therapy rooms, conference rooms. It's more than enough space and rooms for us to do our jobs, and do our jobs well."
Change Health had been renting space at 44 N. Potomac St., next door to Hagerstown City Hall, since 2008.
The clinic serves more than 300 people, and officials are planning for growth by adding more services, such as a primary-care physician.
The clinic also works with other local agencies to focus on the "root cause" of a patient's condition, including issues related to drug abuse, Walls said.
While the clinic's employees are excited about the move, some city officials have reservations.
Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said he hopes to see some pre-existing issues resolved through the move closer to Public Square.
Bruchey said it is important for the city to present "a safe and welcoming environment," and he supports a working relationship with clinic officials to meet that goal.
"With this new location, I want them to be very cognizant of where they are and how they reflect, either positively or negatively, on the city as a whole," he said. "That means don't have your people standing out front on the sidewalk and things like that."
Councilman Don Munson said he hopes the new location will rectify some of the facility's previous issues.
"There were a lot of problems that were created by where they were located," he said. "I would be hopeful that those problems will be reduced, perhaps eliminated in their new site, and I would hope that to the extent possible, the police will enforce that fact that those problems should be eliminated or reduced."
Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire, a vocal opponent of the clinic's downtown location, said most of the problems fell on the facility's management.
The old location did not have adequate waiting-room space, forcing many patients to stand outside. With only one physician on staff at a time to see patients or write prescriptions, appointments tended to get backed up, Aleshire said.
"To me, it largely speaks to management of the facility, the client base that you serve and the effort you take to manage it within your space," he said.
Walls said clinic management has made efforts to address issued raised by city officials, pointing to a larger waiting room and a play area for patients with children in the new space.
The clinic is working to lower wait times to help remedy the problem of people waiting outside, according to Walls, who said she made that a primary goal when she took over her position last fall.
"The longest anyone is waiting for a doctor's appointment at this time is 15 minutes ... and as far as waiting for a therapist, as soon as it's their appointment time, they are immediately going back to see that therapist," she said.
The improvements also have been well received by clients, Walls said.
But Aleshire said seeing such activity continue closer to the square isn't a step in the right direction.
"The public sidewalks should not be waiting room; it is not conducive to anyone," he said. "I would have preferred that they selected somewhere more closely linked to the health care system, not downtown on the square. I do hope that they make every effort to comply with the good conduct (the city) expects."
Councilman Paul Corderman said he is not happy about the location, noting that it isn't in the city's best interest.
"Honestly, I think its dreadful," he said. "It's counterproductive for everything that the city is doing to try to revitalize downtown."
Transportation plays a major role in the clinic's location, Walls said, pointing out that roughly 70 percent of its clients live nearby and walk to the office.
"Most of our clients live in the downtown area or close to it, and transportation is limited in our county," she said. "So, it allows for them to be able to walk to our agency, get here and be successful with their treatment."
The clinic, which is hiring several more positions, currently employs two case workers, 10 mental health therapists and one psychiatric nurse practitioner.
The office operates from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, with flexible hours by appointment for evenings and weekends.