MANCHESTER, NH — On Tuesday night the Board of Aldermen voted unanimously in favor of supporting Safe Station. The vote was prompted by controversy stirred up by Alderman-At-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur, who 48-hours earlier instigated panic in the community by saying he wanted the program gone.
Fifteen people came to the microphone during public comment to speak about the importance of Safe Station, and many more recovery advocates seated in the chambers were holding signs in a show of support for the program.
Safe Station launched nearly three years ago in Manchester as an open door for anyone seeking freedom from addiction by city firefighters and AMR as a way to help get people into recovery. Prior to that first-responders were run ragged with the growing number of overdoses and fatalities. Creating a Safe Station system — an open door policy at all city fire houses – provided a way for those seeking help to find it before it was too late. Since it was initiated more than 5,000 people have come through Safe Station.
Among those who spoke up during the meeting were Jonathan Egan, who said he had found his way to recovery through Safe Station.
“I didn’t get it my first try. I didn’t get it my second try. It took about three times in, and Safe Station was there for me every single time. It’s not just that the doors were open, they welcomed me. Maybe they wanted to give up on me, but they didn’t,” Egan said. “You can’t think about the failures, but you have to think about the successes. I’m a success story in this program.”
He said he’s now working as a manager at a sober house and has helped others find recovery through Safe Station.
Kelly Riley, Community Outreach Coordinator for Hope for NH Recovery said she appreciates how Safe Station has brought the recovery community together.
“I find it insane that we would want to close something that is bringing everybody together to work with each other,” Riley said.”This program has been recognized worldwide,” she said. “I don’t see any reason you’d ever want to change that.”
Karen Rosenthal, a retired clinician and recovery volunteer, said she is tired of seeing her son’s generation dying.
For years she fielded calls at all hours of the night from people desperate to find treatment.
“Since Safe Station has opened my phone and Internet have slowed down. Before we had a Safe Station I was sending people to Massachusetts, now with the opening of the hub-and-spoke, we won’t have as many coming to Manchester,” Rosenthal said.
Rik Cornell has worked at the Mental Health Center for decades, and urged the board to keep Safe Station going.
“It’s a door. It saves lives,” Cornell said urging the board to pursue funding for the city from the state.
Jenny O’Higgins of Makin’ It Happen said Safe Station reduces barriers to care and also reduce ER visits, ambulance runs and saves not only money, but the burden on systems of care and loss of human life.
After several agenda items pertaining to the budget, Alderman Chris Herbert under new business said he wanted to “put fears to rest” about Safe Station and that “there was no real support by alderman to do anything to dismantle Safe Station at this time.”
Levasseur then spoke, back-peddling from his previous statements made on social media, admitting that he was being reactive and felt “frustrated” to learn that statistically Safe Station serves proportionally more people from outside of the city, and that it was “like a stomach punch.”
He said Tuesday night that he supports Safe Station “in spirit” but felt that it was never intended to be in place forever. He asked Chief Dan Goonan to put together a slide presentation to go over the numbers of those coming through fire stations.
Goonan told alderman that Safe Station 7.0 reflects the constant adjustments and efficiencies being built into the system, and that it only takes about 9 minutes to get someone who enters a fire station to the next step.
Levasseur also admitted he has little understanding of the hub-and-spoke model and wanted Annette Escalante, of the state Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services, who had spoken during public comment on behalf of DHHS Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers, to provide more information for the board.
Alderman Dan O’Neil also put in a request for data from the state as several aldermen, along with Mayor Joyce Craig, said that the state’s new hub-and-spoke model is supposed to help reduce the number of people seeking help in Manchester.
Escalante pointed out that the hub-and-spoke system has only been in place for about two-and-a-half months, and that health officials expect that Manchester will begin to see a reduction in the numbers of those coming through Safe Station.
Mayor Craig reinforced that the city continues to make it clear to other municipalities that they should be referring people to their own regional hubs now, which are hospitals — except in Manchester and Nashua, where Granite Pathways is the designated hub. Nashua and Manchester also continue to operate Safe Stations, and have been jointly publishing monthly statistical reports, via AMR.
In order for the city to receive its share of federal funding, Craig said, it must follow the process and document touchpoints for people who come to the city for help, from their entry point to treatment and recovery.