Opioid addiction clinic closes with short notice; staff, patients scramble for alternatives

BrookStone Medical Center, an opioid addiction treatment clinic, is closing its doors after four years of business, St. George, Utah, May 22, 2019 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — BrookStone Medical Center, a clinic providing medically assisted treatment for those suffering from opioid addiction, is closing its doors Saturday in St. George, leaving patients scrambling to find other treatment options.

The owners of the center, medical director Benjamin Brooks and program director Christine Brooks, notified their employees and patients of the closure Friday, just a week before they are scheduled to close their doors on Saturday.

“I’ve spent a lot of time working with these patients and investing in their lives, and I really care about them,” BrookStone counselor Chelsea Lofthouse said. “We’re devastated, we’re absolutely devastated.”

According to a letter to their employees and patients, the owners explained the closure as being due to recent “life-changing medical issues” requiring them to move out of state, along with “Lieutenant Colonel Brooks’ pending deployment.”

During the four years they’ve been in business, the couple has volunteered their time and services to the center, never taking a paycheck and contributing around $400,000 of their personal money toward the program, according to the letter.

The center serves around 90 patients and has 10 employees, all of whom must now find a new job or a new treatment clinic in as little as a week.

“This is my primary source of income, so I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Lofthouse said.

Many patients have expressed concern about the timing of the closure.

A letter from the owners of BrookStone Medical Center is posted on the door explaining why they will be closing, St. George, Utah, May 22, 2019 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

“They should have given patients at least a 30 days notice because now it leaves a lot of us high and dry with no alternative,” BrookStone patient Brooke Daniels told St. George News in an email.

BrookStone provides a variety of services for those struggling with opioid addiction and their families. They offer individual counseling, group classes, online courses, life skills courses, assistance finding jobs and educational training for families and members of the community.

But their primary service is offering medically assisted treatment using methadone and buprenorphine, or Suboxone, which are prescription alternatives to opioids and allow patients to gradually taper off from their use of prescription opioids or heroin, according to the clinic’s website.

Those treatments help reduce cravings and the side effects of withdrawal. Treatments are administered on a daily basis, and it is recommended that a patient take the medication for at least a year, sometimes longer, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Legally, they can only be administered by an approved or licensed clinic to keep patients from abusing or becoming addicted to it, and licensed clinics are few and far between in Southern Utah.

Opioid addiction is a significant problem in Utah. In 2017, there were 456 opioid-related drug overdose deaths in the state, 70% of all overdose deaths, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Read more: Opioid crisis brings federal, state and local officials together in St. George to discuss challenges, solutions

“Substance use disorder treatment is a valuable asset in our community, so whenever a resource that has provided helpful care for those who struggle with addiction closes, the loss will be felt,” Dixie Regional Medical Center Communications Director Terri Draper said.

As the center’s counselor, Lofthouse said that patients have been coming to her feeling helpless and discouraged. Many have come to her crying, some angry, and some saying that they plan to go back to using opioids.

“Their solution to us closing down is to go back to using on the streets,” she said.

Some of the staff have received threatening messages from patients upon hearing about the closure. Lofthouse even had a patient threaten to kill her for ruining their life.

“I was able to calm that patient down and explain that ‘I understand why you’re upset, and I’m here for you,’” Lofthouse said. “But it’s been scary.”

BrookStone Medical Center, an opioid addiction treatment clinic located at 198 N. 100 East, is closing its doors after four years of business, St. George, Utah, May 22, 2019 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

Few treatment clinics are licensed to administer Suboxone in St. George, and even fewer offer methadone. BrookStone is referring its Suboxone patients to either Brooks Wiley of the St. George Children and Family Psychiatric Center or the Southwest Spine and Pain Center, and its methadone patients to the St. George Metro Treatment Center.

Lofthouse and other employees have been working long hours to transfer all of their patients to other clinics for medication, and have been trying to figure out how they will receive their medication in the meantime. While the center will no longer see patients or administer medication after Saturday, employees will be working as long as it takes to get their patients transferred. 

“We’ve built relationships with these people,” safety officer Manny Maez said. “We’ve been spending long hours and working on our days off to figure it out.”

The Metro Treatment Center has assured BrookStone that they will be able to accept all of their patients in need of methadone, but the process takes time as they have to transfer all of their patient information and records. Some patients will be able to start treatment there as soon as Monday, while for others, it could take weeks.

“It would have been better if they could have given us more time to transition everyone,” Lofthouse said. “But we also don’t know, maybe they had a reason.”

Further complicating the issue is the fact that while BrookStone accepted insurance but Metro Treatment Center does not, which is a problem for many patients.

For patients receiving Suboxone, the future is less clear. Darrell Askey, CEO of Southwest Spine and Pain Center, said that while they do offer Suboxone treatment, he is unsure of how many patients they are prepared to take on.

In Utah, a provider is issued a license to treat patients using Suboxone for 25 patients at a time. So while they can become licensed to treat more patients, the number that they can help right now depends on how many patients they are already serving. Currently, the center has two or three licensed providers, Askey said.

“It’s a very specialized medical treatment,” Askey said. “We do it, but again it’s a pretty limited thing.”

Christine Brooks has been out of town on personal matters and could not be reached for comment. She reportedly has been working to find a solution for their patients and trying to sell the business. So far, no one has been willing to buy it and keep it running.

“It would be really great if someone in the community would step up and help,” Maez said.

Email: mshoup@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @MikaylaShoup

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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