A far more insidious problem, though, is the reframing of drug use/addiction as a criminal act instead of the health issue it actually is. And guess what? We have some of that right here in Fitchburg!
The Sentinel just ran an oddly-titled article called Treating local addicts? that addresses the way some city councilors are "concerned" about the possibility of a medical practice specializing in addiction treatment opening on Summer Street.
The medical practice in question is described by its founder, Dr. Punyamurtula S. Kishore, like so:
"We are an enhanced primary care facility," Kishore said. "Everything is integrated, from people who have diabetes, to patients that need a check up and others who are addicted to alcohol, we help everyone."Wow, scary stuff! And indeed, looking over the website for his group sure is terrifying!
I mean, they offer creepy programs like "Weight control and smoking cessation programs," "Physical exams and health assessments," and a "Home Detox Program." Someone quick, hide the children!
Speaking of which:
[S]ome City Councilors are concerned about the location of the facility, being blocks away from St. Bernard's High and Elementary Schools.Umm, yeah. Because a doctor's office is totally a threat to schoolchildren who may be in the general vicinity. People seeking medical care certainly can't be allowed anywhere near children!
"It's right next to a school," said Councilor at-large Annie DeMartino. "I'm shocked they want to put one in there."
Oh, but this isn't about people seeking medical care, is it? No, it's about "addicts."
The word "addict" (as used by the Sentinel headline) conjures the image of a junkie shooting up in an abandoned building, so they're scary. And scary people should be kept away from children, right?
You see, in this country we don't talk about people with addictions as being people with a health problem. No, they're dangerous criminals! Never mind that the vast majority of people with addictions (which is probably about 95% of the country, to one thing or another) are no danger to anyone. Never mind that "addiction" usually doesn't involve anything illegal. Never mind that the people who'd be coming to this doctor's office are people seeking help. Let's just be ignorant and freak out about all the scary addicts!
Thomas Conry goes along with DeMartino's illogical fears and expresses concern at the location, but takes it one particularly ill-informed step farther:
Thomas Conry, an at-large councilor, said he has "very serious concerns" about the facility.Apparently Thomas Conry is in no way familiar with the medical landscape of this area.
"I believe that people have to be treated, however I feel Fitchburg has enough of those types of practices now," he said.
This is a primary care facility with a specialization in addiction medicine we're talking about. Fitchburg has a serious dearth of primary care providers (as does most of the country).
In fact, the state is currently sending questionnaires to local doctors in an attempt to assess whether Fitchburg should be categorized as a "Low Income Primary Care Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA)." Generally such assessments aren't undertaken unless the people involved are pretty confident they're going to qualify. Having seen the dearth of new providers coming into the area, I'd be shocked if we don't.
Additionally, the low income population of Fitchburg (and several surrounding towns) has been categorized as a "Medically Underserved Population" since 1996. (This information is easily found at http://muafind.hrsa.gov/, though I can't link to it directly.)
Now, those classifications are specific to "low income" populations, but don't read that to mean those of us with a bit more money have a good situation. While it's definitely more difficult for a low-income person to find a provider, that problem is made worse by there not being enough doctors to go around.
Low-income patients mean low reimbursement for the doctors who care for them, so many doctors try to limit their numbers. The poor also tend to have more medical problems than wealthier people, which means they take up more time and resources. Yet the reimbursement (especially from Masshealth/Medicaid) is extremely low compared to people who can actually afford reasonable insurance. So from a doctor's business perspective it's unwise to let the percentage of low-income/crap insurance patients in your practice get too high.
Without enough primary care providers in the area, the low-income people get hurt first, because it's not in the doctor's best interest to see too many of them. With the ridiculously ill-conceived Massachusetts "universal" health care sham now in effect, that's going to get even worse. And unless more doctors come into the area, it's going to move up the chain until nobody can find a doctor (it's already a tough thing to do around here).
Anyway, back to the Councilors.
DeMartino seems to harbor an irrational fear. Conry shares it and heaps on a big pile of ignorance. Now we get Norman Boisvert to take it to the next level of dumb:
Ward 2 Councilor Norman Boisvert said he doesn't know the specifics of the plan, but said he doesn't think Fitchburg should be attracting addicts to the city.Hey, guess what Norm? There are already plenty of people with addictions living in this area! They fucking need treatment to help them get over these addictions! We wouldn't be attracting busloads of those scary meth-heads you picture, we'd be helping people in the community to deal with their addictions without having to drive to Worcester to do so. So they'd, you know, get better!
"There are ample places for the addicts to go," he said. "If we bring another center in, that's more addicts into our city, what we should be doing is running them out of town."
But apparently instead of helping people in town to get better, Boisvert thinks the right thing to do is to "run them out of town." Congratulations, Norm! You're a giant idiotic asshole!
You know, Hillcrest Nursing Home is right in the same part of town. Some of the patients there suffer from dementia or Alzheimer's, and could at times be classified as a danger to themselves or others. Let's run them out of town too! And certainly let's not let them stay near the school, what if an old person gets out and does something crazy?
It seems like the only City Councilor on the record as having any understanding of medical care is Jody Joseph:
Ward 6 Councilor Jody Joseph, whose ward the facility would be located in, defended the practice.Right on, Jody!
"It's a doctor's office, that's all it is," Joseph said. "One of the things he does is treat addictions, but it's not going to be a methadone clinic."
Joseph said people are rushing to judgment on the practice.
"People have made it into a horror show, when he's really just a general practitioner for people that don't want to go to a detox center," Joseph said. "It's for the average person."
Joseph is quite right. People have gotten this false idea of what an "addict" is from television and the Drug War propaganda campaigns. But most people with an addiction are very much "the average person."
Smoke cigarettes? Drink too much? Eat too much? Too many lottery tickets? Four cups of coffee a day? Get stuck on painkillers after an operation? Take a medication that's addictive at its normal dosage? Or yes, even have a problem with illegal drugs?
Congratulations, you have an addiction. Norman Boisvert wants to run you out of town, and others on the city council fear you.
Meanwhile, intelligent and well-respected people like Dr. Kishore want to help you improve your life. Which would improve the lives of those around you. Which would improve the city.
And of course having a new business and some more primary care providers in a city that desperately needs both wouldn't be so bad either.
Hopefully the city council will figure out at some point that their constituents are not their enemy, that they don't need to be afraid of everything, and that helping people with problems actually helps all of us.
But don't hold your breath.
[Update: January 9th]
The suckass newspaper ran an editorial opposing the practice opening. Conry, DeMartino, and Marcus DiNatale spoke against it at the ZBA hearing. And the fools at the ZBA turned down the zoning change required to open it. So it's dead.
So we've lost an opportunity for a business to open (while simultaneously costing that business $100k), lost the chance to bring some much-needed primary care doctors into the area, and showed everyone that we're an ignorant little shithole town*.
Way to go.
*In fact, Fitchburg is not an ignorant little shithole town. But is it any surprise that we get characterized that way when this is how we present ourselves?