Treatment search

Church, a nonprofit organization with no track record in drug treatment, received $ 10 million from state to fight opioid crisis :: WRAL.com

Last year was the deadliest year in the country for opioid-related overdoses, with the deaths of more than 100,000 Americans.

North Carolina lawmakers have allocated more than $ 16 million in funding to tackle the opioid crisis here. A significant chunk of the money went to one place – a nonprofit called Hope Alive. The state has allocated $ 10 million over two years for a new treatment center in Robeson County. The allowance comes despite the fact that Hope Alive is a relatively young organization with no experience in drug treatment.

“We really didn’t have a lot of other options locally for the people who were willing to do it,” said State Senator Danny Britt, who represents Robeson County. “The Hope Alive Ministries were but we needed them to work with people who have had clinically proven methods.”

State-filed documents show it was founded in July 2020 and the address is the same as a church in a shopping mall off I-95 in Lumberton called Greater Hope International Church, a non-denominational institution headed by Senior Pastor Ronald Barnes.

“We’re at a time when it’s time to stop talking and stepping in and doing something,” Barnes said at a church-hosted town hall regarding the county’s opioid crisis.

The opioid crisis has seriously affected the region. The county sheriff told WRAL that most crime in the county is somehow drug related. Data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services shows that Robeson emergency room visits following an overdose are the highest in the state and nearly three times the rate in the state.

Report of the Joint Committee of the Conference on the Current Operations Appropriation Act 2021

Currently, the county does not have a long-term care facility.

“Opioid epidemic devastates Robeson County and surrounding counties [here]Britt said. “Having an inpatient treatment center here is going to be something that I think will be life changing for many people in this county.”

Yet healthcare providers wonder how and why so much funding has gone to an organization with no experience in providing this type of treatment.

“It doesn’t seem like there has been a lot of transparency and the way the funding has been distributed to these different programs,” said Dr. Jamie Carter, a primary care and addiction medicine provider at Duke.

The process of decision making

In recent years, more attention has been paid to these closed-door decisions made by lawmakers.

Britt told WRAL in a phone call that he was approached by a female member of Hope Alive and part of the county’s reintegration program that helps those released from jail find jobs and housing.

The representative said there had been a few early conversations about working with the Lumbee Tribe but they had not shown interest. Additionally, Britt told us that the local hospital was also in the process of merging with the UNC system at the time these discussions were taking place, so they weren’t willing to make any deals, which left little to say. ‘options.

Asked about his relationship with Barnes, Britt replies that he did not work directly with the pastor. We filed a registration request with his office for emails and texts that mention the organization and any communication between the two, but it was not completed.

Britt was also unaware of Barnes’ criminal history. WRAL found Virginia records between 1992 and 2004 which show Barnes pleaded guilty to at least seven counts of embezzlement, at least two of which were from car dealerships. He served his sentence for his convictions.

“I had very little relationship with Ron Barnes so no I didn’t know about it,” Britt said.

Britt says he’s not worried that the pastor is overseeing these funds.

“Statistics show that anyone who hasn’t committed in the past 10 years is not as likely to commit as anyone who has never committed before in their life,” said Britt, who in addition to being a elected, directs its own law. solidify. “I firmly believe that people make mistakes and that people can redeem themselves, turn around and change their lives. I don’t think Pastor Barnes would be an exception to this rule.

Hope Alive was willing to step in and take the money, but they won’t be running the site itself, according to Barnes and Britt.

“There are a lot of faith-based rehabilitation centers out there, but we also need clinical methods,” says Britt.

The local consortium will help with clinical methods, Britt told us. Providers from Robeson County Healthcare Corporation as well as UNC Health Southeastern will play a role in treating people with substance use disorders.

We have contacted Barnes, the head of the organization, on several occasions, asking for an interview and more details about the installation. He did not respond to us and said in a sermon on Sunday that he would not be interviewing us.

The church, however, posted on Facebook that day, providing information on how it plans to use the funding.

“The strategy is to create a recovery center and safe community housing options for those in recovery,” Barnes Church – Greater Hope International – posted on its Facebook page. “Hope Alive is the lead organization in managing grant funding and has sought the expertise of various community stakeholders. We intend this project to incorporate a community partnership model and we will build on the expertise and resources that the Robeson RCORP Consortium has to offer.

The plan

Despite Barnes’ refusal to sit down with WRAL for an interview, he invited us to attend a town hall held at the church in December 2021. Local law enforcement officials answered questions about the impact of the opioid crisis on the rural county.

Last year, there were about 366 emergency room visits per 100,000 county residents. The state average for the year – 128.

To address the issue, Hope Alive plans to open an 82-bed facility at 1165 W. Parkton Tobemory Road in Parkton, north of Lumberton. It is planned to transform an old retirement home, closed since 2017.

Neighbors in the neighborhood say they were unaware of plans to convert the empty site into a drug addiction center.

“It is necessary because [drugs] are definitely there and people need help, ”said Casey Avera, a mother of 5 who lives across the street. “It is definitely [un]annoying because it could be a good thing, but it could be very bad.

While Avera says she hopes she will be run “on high morals” since a church takes over, medics working in the field are less optimistic about it.

“You really don’t know what kind of work they do, what training they have, what expertise they bring,” said Carter, the Durham-based addictions expert. “It doesn’t seem like they have the kind of medical training, in terms of bringing the quality, evidence-based medical treatment to the table for the patients who seek treatment there.”

While Barnes said he believes the facility will open in the first three months of the year, Britt said he’s more confident it will be up and running in the spring.