Plans to convert a boutique hotel on Hilton Head Island into a treatment center for addiction and depression continue to draw opposition from some nearby residents, who fear the facility would attract rampant drug use and crime.
More than 130 people gathered Thursday at the Plantation House inside Hilton Head Plantation to question Michael Gillis, chief operating officer for Sunspire Health, which seeks to operate the treatment facility.
"We're not a methadone clinic," Gillis said, comparing his company to nearby assisted-living facilities and medical and psychiatric offices. "... We deal with people's clinical problems with clinical solutions."
The Main Street Inn & Spa owner wants to sell the 33-room property to Behavioral Health Solutions, which owns Sunspire Health, after failed efforts to expand.
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Current zoning allows only a 34-room hotel and 12,000-square-foot restaurant. The inn's owner seeks a change that would allow a residential center for treatment of drug and alcohol dependency, as well as the mental-health needs of nonviolent patients admitted voluntarily.
Town Council approved the rezoning request on first reading Jan. 7. Final approval could come with a second vote Tuesday.
The inn's owner requested last week the matter be tabled for two weeks to address concerns by some nearby residents and businesses.
The facility could not be allowed to treat people serving jail sentences, recently released prison inmates or those participating in a court diversion program, according to town officials.
Gillis said the center would cater to "middle- and upper-middle-class" patients who can afford the $18,000 treatment on their own or through their health insurance. Typical stays are 30 to 90 days and involve group and individual therapy, as well as treatment for depression, anxiety and trauma that may accompany substance abuse, he said.
It would not serve the indigent or those suffering from chronic mental illness, Gillis said, and would employ social workers, therapists and other health professionals.
Sunspire Health operates several facilities across the U.S. that treat addiction, including licensed residential rehab centers in California, Florida, Massachusetts and Oregon.
Ellen Lovejoy, public information officer for the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Police Department said it has had no problems with Sunspire's Recovery Road center.
Attempts Thursday to reach law enforcement in communities where Sunspire has other facilities were unsuccessful.
Many of those gathered Thursday feared a rehab center would attract drug dealers who would scheme to smuggle in drugs.
"This does not seem to be the best place for this with the least impact to the community," plantation resident Stuart Poticha said. "Successful treatment centers are usually placed in less-tempting surroundings. You have a liquor store and parking lot in an area surrounded by children's activities."
The Main Street Inn is less than a mile from the Hilton Head schools campus.
Many wanted to know what type of security the center would provide and whether the property would be fenced off. One resident suggested armed guards be present.
Gillis said the center would likely be fenced and gated and the property monitored by security cameras. Patients would not be allowed to leave unescorted.
"We have not had the systemic or rampant drug abuse that people are talking about or has been publicized at other, high-profile recovery centers across the country," Gillis said. "... Do people struggle? Yes. But by and large, our clients are looking for a safe, protected environment where they can work toward a productive, long-term sobriety."
Gillis and a handful of recovering alcoholics and addicts who attended the meeting said they were disheartened by the dated stereotypes and misguided stigmas of those struggling with addiction.
"My cohorts and I were not bad people," said resident Dave Cooper, "an alumni and graduate" of a similar recovery program. "There were soccer moms and airline pilots -- a cross-section of mainstream America. We were sick people and wanted to get better. And a facility like the one proposed was our best shot. ... I'm glad I took it because it may have saved my life."
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.