This place ‘saved my mom.’ Clients rally to save Modesto drug treatment center

At a rally outside a Modesto drug treatment center last week, 11-year-old Jace Whitehead held a sign that read:

“New Hope saved my mom. I am so thankful.”

Adults adding their voices to the demonstration had less innocent stories to tell about their battles with addiction to the hardest drugs available on the street. But they had the same message: “This place saved my life.”

New Hope Recovery House on East Orangeburg Avenue is fighting for its own survival after a July 25 suspension order from the state that shut down most services at the 40-bed residential treatment center.

Sara Watson, who is Jace’s mother and an intake coordinator for New Hope, said the program helped her break a drug addiction four years ago, so she could be a true parent to her kids again. It’s a guiding light to recovery for many other people with drug or alcohol dependency, she stressed.

“This place gave me hope when I had none,” Watson said. “In this area, substance abuse is a public health epidemic and we are definitely part of the solution.”

The California Department of Health Care Services has yet to release details of the enforcement action, which included a suspension order and accusation to revoke the center’s license.

Michelle Lucas, program director for New Hope, said the state has accused the program of putting clients in danger by not following standard detox protocols. According to the DHCS accusation, staff were not checking clients every 30 minutes as they went through withdrawal symptoms and endured the process of eliminating drug constituents from their bodies.

Lucas said New Hope clients who are detoxing, as a first step to sobriety, are given 12 hours of observation, during which their vitals are taken and they are frequently monitored for signs of complications.

A state standard calls for checks every 30 minutes over a 72-hour period, unless a health care practitioner discontinues the protocol.

Lucas said the issue with state regulators has much to do with whether the 30-minute checks were documented in records. For the state visits to the center in June and December 2018, records show the checks were done in 75 to 85 percent of cases, the director said.

“We missed some spots,” Lucas said. “In other cases, the clients were in support groups. We got cited for failing to adhere to the correction plan, but we did adhere to the plan.”

In a statement Thursday, the DHCS said it determined New Hope Recovery was not in compliance with “all alcohol and other drug treatment program standards, thus potentially jeopardizing the health and safety of clients.”

The agency did not immediately release a copy of the accusation and other related documents following a records request from The Modesto Bee.

Lucas said no patients have died or suffered harm as a result of the center’s detoxification services. New Hope has appealed the state enforcement action and is set for an Oct. 28-29 administrative hearing in Sacramento.

Lucas said the program’s attorney and legal representatives for the state are talking over the issues, and she hopes the matter can be resolved without going to the administrative hearing.

The state order has temporarily closed the program’s detox and residential services. New Hope still has day treatment and outpatient service. The enforcement action threatens the jobs of 15 employees. New Hope was founded in 1988.

Jessica Holt, 44, credits the Modesto center for her 14 years of being clean and sober. Back in 2005, she said, she was using methamphetamine and learned she was eligible for a scholarship to pay for treatment at New Hope. She called the center more than 50 days in a row to show she was motivated.

What sets the residential program apart is the structure, rules and consistency, Holt said, noting those qualities are missing from other recovery services.

About 60 supporters, including former clients and some employees, attended Friday’s demonstration.

Watson said the New Hope center serves adults who are addicted to heroin, meth, opioid painkillers or alcohol and can’t get help at the county’s Stanislaus Recovery Center in Ceres. It’s more of a middle class clientele with private insurance or the ability to pay for recovery services.

Now, those residents are forced to travel 50 miles to the closest program, Watson said.

Dana Fredrickson, a Merced resident who attended the rally, said he was not aware of any problems with the detox services. “I came here because of what they did for me,” he said.

Fredrickson said he was taking oxycodone following back surgery, later combining the drug with morphine and was using heroin. His wife found the recovery program in Modesto and drove him to the center.

He was glad the “after care” services still were open at the New Hope center. “They are a 12-step program and that is what is saving me,” Fredrickson said.

Ken Carlson covers county government and health care for The Modesto Bee. His coverage of public health, medicine, consumer health issues and the business of health care has appeared in The Bee for 15 years.