OdysseyNH set to close

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Landmark residential substance abuse treatment facility shutting down today

By Shir Haberman

Hampton Union, August 14, 2009

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online]

This building located at 30 Winnacunnet Road in Hampton, housed the Adolescent Treatment Center of OdysseyNH for the past 39 years. As of today, this facility, along with two others in Hampton and one in Canterbury will close its doors. Shir Haberman, Photo

HAMPTON — OdysseyNH, an adolescent residential substance abuse treatment facility that has been operating in town for the past 39 years, will be closing its doors for good today, Aug. 14.

"We are very, very upset about this," said the organization's President of the Board of Directors David Choate. "We did everything in our power to prevent this, but it didn't work out."

OdysseyNH rents three locations in Hampton from the Odyssey Foundation: the Adolescent Treatment Center on Winnacunnet Road, the OdysseyNH Academy on High Street and the Blue Heron Inn on Landing Road. In addition, the organization operates the OdysseyNH Family Center in Canterbury.

The economic downturn at the beginning of the year and a shift in New Hampshire state funding priorities are the prime reasons for the closure, a press release issued by the organization stated. The Board of Directors began aggressively pursuing partnership opportunities with large national organizations similar to Odyssey at the beginning of spring, but in the past few days, those conversations came to an end.

On Aug. 10, the Board of Directors made the decision to close the agency, effective at the end of the business day today.

OdysseyNH (ONH), formerly Odyssey House Inc., has provided substance abuse services to New Hampshire youth, families and women since 1970. As New Hampshire's first residential treatment program, it claims to have helped more than 3,000 youth, women and families, who are referred to the organization from every part of the state, reclaim their lives and build positive futures.

With three residential programs and the OdysseyNH Academy, the organization's staff focuses on using a wide array services to help youth and families get their lives back on track.

On Sept. 27, 2007, ONH opened the area's first and only Recovery High School at OdysseyNH Academy in Hampton. This program combined substance abuse treatment with state-accredited education.

According to the organization's Web site, ONH's long-term vision was to "develop an array of services that broaden our non-residential offerings for youth and families dealing with recovery from substance abuse."

That vision will not come to fruition now. Choate said that was because of a change in the state's approach to supplying these kinds of services.

"The Odyssey model was based on overnight stays," Choate said. "For the past several years, the state model has been moving toward shorter stays and using community services, such as Seacoast Mental Health. We're just not viable anymore."

New Hampshire Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Director Joe Harding said that, while residential treatment is and always will be needed, in some cases it is not and it is a very costly approach.

"We are always looking for the best way to provide services to those who need them," Harding said. "Sometimes there are more cost-effective ways of getting people those services."

The director said the state paid OdysseyNH on a per diem basis for the youngsters involved in the residential programs. He said his agency pays a flat yearly fee for the six women and six children living in the Canterbury facility. That cost amounted to approximately $400,000 last year, he said.

Harding also noted that residential programs usually operate within their own frameworks and don't always reach out to available community services that can deal with all a client's needs.

"Now we're seeking to break down those barriers," Harding said. "Often there are other issues involved that community services can deal with."

ONH staff was notified earlier this week about the closure of all four facilities. The emphasis now is on placing the organization's clients in comparable facilities located elsewhere in the state, Choate said.

"Our priority right now is getting the kids and women placed," he said.

That statement was echoed in the organization's press release.

"During the transition week, Odyssey staff is working closely with state officials and families to find safe, appropriate placements for residential clients from the Adolescent Therapeutic Center and Blue Heron Inn in Hampton and the Odyssey Family Center in Canterbury," the release stated. "All students of the OdysseyNH Academy will finish their summer term and receive full academic credit."

Choate estimated there are approximately nine kids living at the Winnacunnet Road facility, which at one time handled approximately 30 young people, about 10 clients at the Academy and about 10 women at the facility in Canterbury.

"There is a changing environment in which residential care is delivered in this state," Choate said. "Sadly, I think we will see more closings of these types of facilities in the future."

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