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June 28, 2023

Worcester demands Community Healthlink release a plan to reopen substance-abuse programs

PHOTO | Isabel Tehan Community Healthlink SEIU Local 509 members at the UMass Memorial Health administrative offices

Worcester City Council in its Tuesday meeting voted to pass a resolution urging the nonprofit behavioral health organization Community Healthlink to reopen its three programs which have been paused since late April

The Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Abuse Services encouraged CHL to cease new admissions to its detox program, according to city council agenda documents. The closing of the other two continuum programs was made unilaterally by Worcester parent organization UMass Memorial Health, which runs CHL. 

SEIU 509, the labor union representing Community Healthlink workers, is hosting a second rally on Thursday, following its earlier May rally, to advocate for the reopening of programs. CHL workers said at that time the closures followed a pattern of mismanagement amid feedback from staff that conditions were deteriorating.

"Community Healthlink (CHL) is working diligently to prepare and submit a plan to the Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (BSAS) to resume services as quickly as possible at CHL’s Detox, Passages, and Thayer Transitional Support Services programs at 12 Queen Street. We are taking the necessary steps to reopen these programs in a way that best serves our community, while addressing the issues that led to the suspension of services. As part of this process, our top priority is ensuring that our caregivers and clients have the resources they need in alignment with our high standards of care. We remain committed to serving our community and addressing the urgent need for these services," said Gordon Benson, Interim President, in a statement. Benson is vice president for adult outpatient services at CHL. 

The closure of the programs was at the time intended to last three months, but CHL has not made public plans to reopen. City council is requesting CHL release a public plan for the reopening of the shuttered programs, which include detox programming and transitional treatment. 

“It’s heartbreaking to see the ripple effects of this closure,” David Higgins, CHL worker, said in a Wednesday press release from the labor union. “We have heard from people who have been sleeping outside of buildings in the bushes, or are struggling to access other services in the absence of these programs. This is not sustainable. We’re invested in the well-being of the people we work with, and that’s why we’ve continued to advocate for reopening of services.”

The detox program, Passages program, and Thayer Transitional Support Services programs out of 12 Queen St. in Worcester have been closed since April 21. CHL program staff were initially laid off and then reassigned at different CHL locations.

Worcester Mayor Joe Petty on June 20 requested a public hearing on the closure of the programs

“Worcester is a stronger community when programs like CHL are available to those who are going through some of the most difficult times of their lives,” said Petty in the press release. “I’m proud to stand with workers, community members, and other elected officials in calling for a reopening of these recovery programs.”

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