ELLSWORTH − The Open Door Recovery Center and Hills House will close on July 5 due to financial troubles, said Board President Carla Magoon. Barbara Royal, the executive director of the organization who worked there for decades, has resigned.
“She had family issues, her parents were getting older and it was a lot of work to take care of them,” said Magoon.
In an email, Jackie Farwell, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), said that the state would not renew the facility’s license after regulators documented “numerous regulatory deficiencies” that it said hadn’t been addressed.
“Given the department’s documented concerns about the facility over the last six months and the failure to address them, we will not be providing additional funding to support its operation,” said Farwell.
DHHS officials visited Open Door in November and December of 2018, said Farwell, and issued the facility a conditional license on Dec. 31, 2018, that was set to expire on July 1, 2019.
During those 2018 winter visits, said Farwell, DHHS staff noted “numerous regulatory deficiencies relating to the facility’s governance, documentation of patient treatment, documentation of employee supervision and training, and failure to conduct background checks on all employees.”
Officials visited again this past June, said Farwell, and “determined that the facility had not resolved these regulatory deficiencies as required under the conditional license.”
DHHS gave Open Door 30 days for the transition of clients and residents, but notified them that the license to practice as a substance use disorder treatment program would not be renewed and that the state would not provide the additional funding the agency had requested.
Open Door provides intensive outpatient treatment for those suffering from substance use disorders. The center also runs Hills House, a house for pregnant women or mothers with young children to remain with their kids while in treatment for addiction.
Four women and two children were still living in the house as of Tuesday, said Magoon.
Three of the women will be relocated to Cumberland County and one has been placed in Penobscot County.
“That special niche where women could bring their children, we were it for the area. It wasn’t so hard to find clients for that, but it was hard to find funding,” said Magoon, adding that it was the only such facility in Hancock and Washington counties.
“We had some problems financially for quite awhile,” said Magoon. “We’d get enough to go on and then we’d be scrambling.”
Federal tax filings show the organization took in $740,642 in fiscal year 2017, more than ever before, but that its revenue after expenses shrunk to $2,465 compared to $140,454 the year before. In previous years it had often operated at a loss.
Hancock County commissioners, who were told the news on Tuesday morning, expressed surprise and dismay.
“This is a very, very sad situation,” said Commissioner Bill Clark. “They have counseled thousands over the last 30 years. There’s nobody out there in this area that’s going to take up that void.”
Former Executive Director Royal never refused to take someone in need, said Jail Administrator Tim Richardson, who would often refer patients, regardless of ability to pay.
Open Door has been around since 1984, and was run for 15 years out of the basement of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.
In recent years, the work of recovery has taken on a key role in Maine — and national — politics, as opiate addiction has become a fixture in many communities. But many programs focus on medically-assisted treatment, and much of the federal money available is geared toward those services.
The state of Maine recently received $2.3 million in federal funds from the State Opioid Response grant program, which aims to address the opioid crisis by increasing medication-assisted treatment with three Food and Drug Administration-approved medications for the treatment of opioid use disorder. But Open Door shied away from medication-assisted treatment.
“Clients were allowed to have drug-assisted treatment but our goal would be to try and work them off that,” said Magoon. “Our mission statement just didn’t support that.”
The nonprofit has struggled in recent years with competition from other treatment programs for funding and clients, said Magoon. It’s been several months since the center had any intensive outpatients.
“The inpatient was really hard to maintain and the intensive outpatient wasn’t working because of the competition.” Magoon said other area programs offer outpatient services that demand less time than the four-hour, three-day-per-week sessions at Open Door.
The center had between 10 and 12 employees, said Magoon, all of whom will be out of work. Open Door owns its property, said Magoon, and the board is “brainstorming” about what comes next.
“We’re hoping maybe we could partner with other agencies in the county who might want to continue doing something like this who have avenues to funding we didn’t have.”
Magoon said she didn’t place blame with anyone for Open Door’s difficulties.
“Barbara was incredible,” said Magoon, referring to the former executive director.
“To bring the organization as far as she did…It wasn’t somebody’s fault. It’s just, everything came together and it’s really sad. I think this area needs something like this, and she was so passionate about it.”
“It’s hard to watch something that you really believe in just kind of not make it,” said Magoon.
“It’s sad news.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story contained an error. The state declined to provide additional funding above and beyond Open Door’s regular MaineCare reimbursements. Open Door had been receiving MaineCare reimbursements prior to the facility’s closure but the state did not provide additional funding outside of that given licensing concerns.