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Cuts hang over clinic

By Pia Sarkar, Staff Reporter

State budget cut proposals are having a sobering effect on the Bronx Alcoholism Treatment Center.

The Pelham Bay center is one of three in New York City threatened by Governor George Pataki's efforts to slash spending. The others are in Queens and Manhattan.

"We have discontinued admitting clients since February," said Lorraine Stuart, assistant director of the center, housed in the Bronx Psychiatric Center.

Most of the people who visit the center are Medicaid recipients from the South Bronx, and a large number of them are homeless.

Pataki is planning to close six of the state's 13 alcoholism treatment centers which serve about 6,000 clients a year, said Richard Chady, public information director for the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services in Albany. As a result, the state expects to save $4.3 million annually.

While the rest of the Bronx Psychiatric Center will stay open, the proposal to abolish the in-patient alcoholism treatment unit -- which serves about 325 people a year -- has left a lot of people frustrated and angry.

"It seems ridiculous since they just moved us into this $3 million newly renovated building," Stuart said. "But I'm not the governor."

The borough center expanded last July, increasing the number of beds from to 38 from 24, but the threat of elimination has kept these beds empty.

To some, the loss of the treatment center is more personal. George Jensen used to be a client there. Today, he is a state-certified alcoholism counselor at the place that helped him get back on his feet.

"Seventeen years ago, this facility saved my life," Jensen said, describing how the center introduced him to Alcoholics Anonymous and taught him to stay sober. "I'm a product of this facility."

New clients no longer have the same opportunity to share Jensen's experience. Instead of going into the treatment program, they are sent to homeless shelters and halfway houses.

The Bronx Alcoholism Crisis Center, an intake facility, must either retain its clients until a place at a treatment center in another borough opens up or put them back out on the streets.

The crisis center used to send approximately 80 percent of its referrals to the borough treatment center. "That facility is one of our backbone resources," said Rachel Evans, executive director of the crisis center.

If the treatment center was full, she explained, the spillover usually went to centers in Manhattan.

But now, with only two centers left operating -- in Staten Island and Brooklyn -- long waiting lists have delayed treatment by four or five weeks.

Not all hope is lost, though. Some officials at the center believe they still have a chance for survival.

The Assembly is trying to restore all six facilities; the State Senate is vying to maintain four, but the Bronx center is not on their list.

But Jensen, who is optimistic, said, "I won't believe we're closed until they put a padlock on the door."

The Bronx Beat, April 10, 1995