Saranac Lake veteran rehab facility to open doors in June

SARANAC LAKE – St. Joseph’s Addiction Treatment and Recovery Centers is a few weeks away from opening its new community residence for veterans suffering from both addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Construction is winding down on the $3 million, state-funded facility, located in a quiet wooded lot just off of Kiwassa Road, below the main St. Joseph’s campus.

“We are now in the process of hiring staff,” St. Joseph’s CEO Bob Ross said Friday. “We’ll be hiring 12 staff in different positions. Most of them are clinical, and we also have some support staff. We hope to be operational in June. The building should be finished around Memorial Day.”

Ross said six people, all of them veterans, have already accepted positions at the facility.

“That’s been not a requirement, but definitely an emphasis,” he said. “We want to create a culture and a climate for that facility that’s very veteran user friendly and comfortable.”

The opening of the community residence will come nearly six years after St. Joseph’s was picked as one of four addiction centers in New York to share $25 million to increase the number of beds available statewide for combat veterans suffering from both substance abuse and post-traumatic stress. St. Joseph’s officials hoped to have the 25-bed, 10,000-square-foot facility built and operating three years ago, but the state money, provided through Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, was tied up in red tape and a budget crisis in Albany.

Once the state funds came through, the project endured a lengthy and complicated review process. St. Joseph’s initially asked the village to rezone the 3-acre parcel, which had been zoned for residential use only, to match the zoning of the center’s main 27-acre property. But residents who live near the parcel said the zoning change, and the uses and activities associated with the project, would damage the character and property values of their neighborhood. St. Joseph’s ultimately revised the proposal to rezone half of the property, leaving the other half untouched as a buffer for the nearby homes.

Construction of the veterans residence began in March of last year.

The site of the facility is a key part of its mission, Ross said.

“That location is really in the woods. You can see the woods from every window of every room,” he said. “That was important, that we create a climate of calmness and serenity, and a healing place. That’s in addition to the building itself, which we think came off really well in terms of sensitivity to the use of color, to create a home environment as opposed to an institutional feeling.”

Ross said the residence is licensed as an addiction facility. The veterans who receive treatment at it will have a substance abuse diagnosis. Most will also have post-traumatic stress in various levels of severity, he said. They’ll be referred to St. Joseph’s from a variety of sources, including the Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany.

“They have a wonderful veteran-specific detox that’s run by Loyola Recovery Foundation,” he said. “It’s a perfect fit because there will be people coming out of detox who need longer term treatment care. Most of the referrals will probably come from those organizational pathways, but certainly we’ll get calls from individuals or families.”

The program will also include help for family members of veterans, Ross said. A family counselor is one of the 12 people St. Joseph’s is hiring.

While the facility is open to men only, St. Joseph’s has a partnership agreement with Samaritan Village, which runs a 25-bed community residence for women veterans in Ellenville.

“Any North Country, upstate women veterans that we come in contact with, we don’t turn them away,” Ross said. “We immediately do a cross-referral. The same thing would be true of (Samaritan Village) of any men they come into contact with.”

Although the U.S. is winding down its military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, Ross said the need to provide services to veterans isn’t going away. Some veterans of those conflicts will need help soon after they return home, but the facility could also help Vietnam veterans “for whom, historically, these kinds of facilities haven’t been around,” Ross said.

“People don’t necessarily manifest PTSD and addiction issues the first few days, weeks, months and even years that they’re out of the military,” Ross said. “The struggles come back over time, and they need services. I think it’s something that will be protracted for the future.”

“The nation’s done a lot better job at putting their arms around our veterans and thanking them for their service,” Maj. General Mark Graham (Ret.) said in a press release. “This facility is another step. It’s greatly needed in this area, and is a wonderful way to let our vets know we care.”

Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau congratulated St. Joe’s for finishing “a large and very worthy project, and for employing more Saranac Lakers with good-paying, full-benefit jobs.

“Sometimes we hear people gripe about not-for-profits not paying property taxes, but their positive contributions, such as St. Joe’s drug addiction counseling and good-paying, great-benefit jobs, more than make up for the taxes, and St. Joseph’s will in fact be making a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT),” Rabideau said in a prepared statement. “I would welcome many more St. Joe’s to Saranac Lake.”

St. Joseph’s officials said the PILOT payment to the village will total $5,000.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new facility will take place later this month. It will be named the Col. C. David Merkel, M.D. Veterans’ Residence, in honor of St. Joseph’s former medical director and a long-time Saranac Lake physician. Merkel, who also had a long and distinguished career as a physician in the U.S. Army Reserves, died in 2012.

More information about St. Joseph’s programs, including a listing of employment opportunities, is posted at www.stjoestreatment.org.