Get our newsletters

Jefferson Abington Hospital looks to sell Warminster site to addiction/recovery center

Neighbors worried about safety attended a township zoning hearing this month


Officials at Montessori Children’s House and its Warminster neighbors packed a township zoning hearing board meeting Wednesday to hear testimony regarding an addiction treatment and recovery center’s plan to set up a 150-bed inpatient facility at the current Jefferson Health-Warminster site at 225 Newtown Road.

“This is the equivalent of a courtroom and we ask for your compliance to be respectful,” zoning board solicitor Rebecca W. Geiser, of Kilkenny Law LLC, told the more than 75 residents and visitors on Jan. 10. “If there are any disruptions, you will be asked to leave.”

Jefferson Abington Hospital is looking to sell the Newtown Road facility to Avenues Recovery Center LLC confirmed Irene Contreras Reyes, spokeswoman for Jefferson Health.

“Jefferson Health is committed to the community and will continue delivering high-quality, compassionate and equitable care,” she said in an email. “To fulfill its mission, Jefferson Health will continue operating services at the Warminster campus.”

Avenues Recovery Center LLC is appealing an Aug. 30 interpretation of whether the proposed center constitutes a “hospital campus” or a “sober living facility.” Its plan also requires a special exception to the zoning code that’d allow for the extension of an existing nonconforming use, and a variance to permit the facility in one of Warminster’s residential zones.

Residents attending the meeting either received a letter from the township informing them of the hearing or what many called “a flier taped to my mailbox” about it.

Erica Mortimer, director of quality assurance with Avenues Recovery Center LLC, testified Wednesday night and was cross-examined by Michael Yanoff, of Goldstein Law Partners and counsel for Montesorri Children’s House at 229 Newtown Road.

Yanoff questioned Mortimer regarding the facility’s licensure and accreditation, as well as her own qualifications, leading her to testify that she had many years of experience writing policies for other level facilities, and in fact had written a hospital-grade policy handbook for a facility in Valley Forge. Mortimer reiterated that a hospital must be licensed in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to operate, but it is not required to be accredited.

Avenues operates an outpatient rehab center in Warwick Township, plus recovery communities in several other states.

Additional questions from Yanoff and zoning board members covered how the clients of the program would be screened and who would not be considered a viable candidate.

Mortimer testified that sex-offenders would not be admitted. When Yanoff asked if “house burglars” or anyone who had been incarcerated would be admitted, Mortimer testified, “We do not discriminate.”

She additionally testified that “most likely there are people in this room who either know someone who has had a drug or alcohol addiction or has been incarcerated.” She added, “If the applicant is not a good fit for us or the community we serve, we will refer them to another facility.”

Avenues Recovery Center LLC would be a “specialty hospital” with 24/7 support from onsite doctors and nurses. But it would not house a “typical Emergency Room” nor other typical hospital features, Mortimer testified.

Greg Heleniak, with Rudolph Clarke, counsel for Avenues Recovery Center, said clinicians would be hired for the facility, and the team might also include clinicians on rotation from Jefferson Health.

The public has not yet had an opportunity to ask questions — the hearing will be continued on Feb. 6 and was continued from a session held Dec. 13.

When interviewed, though, several neighbors shared that they are very concerned about the safety of the children at the Montessori School and the high school students who “cut through” the property at 225 Newtown Road. They also noted that clients can “get out at any time.”

The zoning board asked clarifying questions of the witness regarding the clients’ ability to leave the facility of their own free will.

Mortimer responded that no one is held against their will and “no one is tied to a bed.” She added that the clients would be coming and going freely through the front door and if anyone needed to leave, a trained staff member would assist them in finding appropriate transportation to their next location.

Mortimer testified that she was not aware of any safety violations. She did testify that, at one facility in Louisiana, the staff felt it would be safer if encased in a full fence around the facility. She testified that Avenues Recovery Center LLC does not accept court-mandated applicants or anyone who demonstrates violent tendencies.

“If the applicant is resistant to help, we don’t accept them,” she added.

Join our readers whose generous donations are making it possible for you to read our news coverage. Help keep local journalism alive and our community strong. Donate today.