By Becca Taurisano
Thursday, April 14, 2022
Since 1963, Crouse Health has been a leader in addiction treatment services for Central New York and was the first provider in the area to offer methadone maintenance for the treatment of opioid use disorders. Now Crouse is leading the way again with a new two-story, 42,000 square- foot outpatient treatment center in Syracuse. The Bill and Sandra Pomeroy Treatment Center opened its doors in June 2021 at 2775 Erie Boulevard East and allows Crouse to expand the integration of medical services with a holistic, uplifting and healing environment that will lead to improved treatment and recovery outcomes for patients.
“One of our main goals with the new location was to expand access to services and increase outpatient capacity in a welcoming, safe and nurturing environment,” says Tolani Ajagbe, MD, Medical Director for Crouse’s Addiction Treatment Services, adding that the facility’s increased square footage will enable Crouse to provide treatment and recovery services for an additional 300-plus patients annually.
As the U.S. opioid crisis was exploding during the late 2010s, Crouse realized it was outgrowing its previous treatment center. Monika Taylor, Director of Addiction Treatment Services at Crouse, says, “We were bursting at the seams. It was apparent we needed a larger space to treat the needs of the community.”
In 2017, Crouse secured funding from the New York State Department of Health to build the new center, but then it was a matter of finding a location. Despite the growing awareness surrounding the opioid crisis, there is still a stigma attached to addiction and some communities were reluctant to have a treatment center close by. After a push to increase community awareness, the Erie Boulevard location became available and Crouse was able to build the center from the ground up, which was important to achieving their vision for the completed project. Working with architecture firm King and King, Taylor says they were able to design a space that is welcoming, fosters diversity and is free of stigma.
“The patient experience was front and center to the design,” she says. “We want our patients to feel uplifted when they walk in the door. [The new center] sends a message to people that you matter. You are someone who deserves to be here.”
“I want people to know when you go to Crouse you will not be judged; you will be treated with kindness and care beyond anything you’d ever expect. I have never seen anyone pour their heart and soul into this like they do. They want to see you succeed.”
— Greg Collins, Pomeroy Treatment Center patient recovering from addiction
Creating a Comfortable, Supportive Atmosphere
The Bill and Sandra Pomeroy Treatment Center incorporates unique features that communicate a message of hope to patients. Crouse included thoughtful details in the building’s design, like a glassed-in courtyard in the center of the building to let in natural light, inspirational quotes suggested by staff displayed on artwork and colorful glass windows to enhance the space.
In addition to designated areas for individual and group counseling, the center has a life skills laboratory with computers where vocational counselors can help patients with resume writing. There’s also an on-site fully functional kitchen and laundry facilities. Staff can teach meal preparation and laundry skills to patients who need them, particularly for those whose substance use started at an early age. A sensory room is used for meditation or a nursing mother by dimming the lights and playing soothing music.
Activity therapists can use an outdoor courtyard for movement, and planters are available outside for patients to grow vegetables in the summer.
For patients who have lost their basic living needs due to substance use, a clothing closet is available for them to access everyday wear or business clothing for an upcoming interview. A shower room was developed after speaking with existing patients who explained that some people seeking treatment are living on the streets and may not feel comfortable showering at a shelter.
“These features help our patients feel better about themselves,” says Taylor. “It helps with their dignity.”
Responding to the Pandemic
At any given time, the Pomeroy Treatment Center cares for as many as 1,300 patients, with the capacity to see 300 more. Dr. Ajagbe says he is seeing an uptick in patients seeking treatment, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID measures meant to keep us safe impacted addiction like isolation, high stress and economic hardship. Some people self-medicated during this time,” Dr. Ajagbe says. “A direct effect was the huge spike of opioid deaths during COVID.”
In 2017, there were 70,000 deaths in the United States as a result of opioid overdose and 93,000 opioid overdose deaths in 2020. In the 12-month period ending in April 2021, 100,000 people died from opioid use.
“We continue to see the effects in Onondaga County,” Dr. Ajagbe says. “We lost 156 people from opioids in 2020 and 2021 is on pace to be higher than that. More people are trying to access care every day.”
About 50% of the patients at the Pomeroy Treatment Center are being treated for opioid use and the other 50% are seeking help for addictions to alcohol, marijuana, crack cocaine and other substances.
Dr. Ajagbe says the patients that come to the treatment center now are medically sicker, largely due to fentanyl and other substances used in drugs today. Some are also suffering from mental health issues, another side effect of the pandemic.
“We are seeing an increase in mental health issues — depression, anxiety, PTSD, trauma — because of lack of interpersonal interactions,” he says. “The substances people are using are spiked with synthetics and fentanyl that are causing damage in the brain and mental health.”
The Pomeroy Treatment Center can usually address all of their patient’s health issues in one location, whether they need medication to support treatment such as methadone, suboxone or vivitrol, medical treatment from their providers on staff, or mental health treatment.
“If a patient has a cough or sore throat, they can be seen by our medical staff,” Taylor says. “Some patients may not have a primary care provider or their doctor may be treating them differently because of their addiction. Being able to address those issues here is a plus to their overall treatment outcomes.”
Part of the mission of the Pomeroy Treatment Center is to destigmatize addiction.
“A large part of our population worldwide still sees addiction as a moral failure, rather than a chronic disease of the brain,” Dr. Ajagbe says. “Addiction is no different than other chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes, asthma, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, etc. They go through periods of remission and periods where they relapse. Our responsibility is to help them stabilize again.”
Dr. Ajagbe says only 10% to 12% of people with substance use disorders are in treatment and the rest are either unable to admit they need help or do not know how to access care. Dr. Ajagbe believes education about addiction is key, as well as providing 24/7 access to individuals seeking treatment.
The Pomeroy Treatment Center is open seven days a week: Monday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m.; Friday, 5:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.; Saturday/Sunday, 7 –10 a.m.