Rehab facility unlikely in Haddonfield
HADDONFIELD - Brian O’Neill, CEO and founder of Recovery Centers of America, says he is committed to “helping 1 million Americans get clean and sober” by opening a series of high-end drug and alcohol rehab centers on the East Coast — including three in South Jersey.
But there are strong indications Haddonfield’s Bancroft property, which RCA purchased in March, will not be among the locations for an RCA facility.
A firm representing RCA and O’Neill issued a statement Wednesday afternoon announcing RCA, a start-up firm which has not opened any rehabilitation facilities yet, had secured $231.5 million in financing from Deerfield Management Co., a New York-based health care investment firm.
Attached to the release was a map of proposed sites, with two South Jersey locations — Blackwood and Mays Landing — but not Haddonfield. The map also indicates additional locations in Earleville, Waldorf and Upper Marlboro, Maryland; Danvers, Massachusetts; and Paoli, Pennsylvania.
Haddonfield residents have voiced strong opposition to a rehabilitation facility in the small, affluent borough since O’Neill, a Pennsylvania-based developer, first met with them in an information session in April. At that meeting, dozens of residents told O’Neill and a packed Haddonfield Memorial High School auditorium that the 19.2-acre site — adjacent to the high school and in close proximity to an elementary school and densely populated residential neighborhoods — was not suitable for the planned facility.
Mayor Jeff Kasko and borough commissioners have been in negotiations with O’Neill and RCA to purchase a significant portion of the property. Kasko would not comment on those negotiations this week, other than to say that an agreement was “very, very close.”
O’Neill also would not comment Thursday on negotiations with Haddonfield, but said the borough “has been extraordinarily concerned” about the issue of drug addiction and treatment and “extremely helpful” in reaching a settlement.
In Gloucester Township, RCA acquired a former Diocese of Camden retreat site on Peter Cheeseman Road, across from the Blackwood campus of Camden County College, in hopes of opening a 37-bed facility.
The township planning board rejected the proposal by RCA affiliate 1840 Peter Cheeseman LLC in March, and the company then sued, citing zoning and land-use law, as well as the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.
O’Neill said Thursday RCA and attorneys representing the township planning and zoning boards were currently in settlement negotiations but the suit is ongoing.
“The mayor is deeply concerned about addiction,” he said, referring to Mayor Dave Mayer, “but you can’t fix addiction if you don’t have a place for people to get fixed.”
“We have the right to build there,” he added. "And that’s why we’re suing on the basis of land-use and zoning law, but also on civil rights grounds.”
Mayer on Thursday declined to comment, citing pending litigation against the planning and zoning boards. But, he noted, “Addiction is a national epidemic, and we in Gloucester Township are using innovative and creative ways to approach this disease.”
“I think here in Gloucester Township we are leading the way in looking at this disease from a social perspective and a policing perspective,” he continued.
Asked whether Gloucester Township had any plans to try to acquire the land from RCA as Haddonfield is attempting, he said simply: “Not at this time.”
RCA is also in the process of acquiring Lighthouse Recovery, an in-patient rehab center in Mays Landing. O’Neill hopes Lighthouse, which would be RCA’s first facility, can be “up and running” under its management within the first quarter of 2016. RCA is “in discussions with a number of operators” to acquire more existing facilities as well, according to O’Neill.
The goal, O’Neill said, is to “circle New Jersey” with treatment facilities, and RCA hopes to open facilities in Bergen County and near Red Bank in Monmouth County.
“New Jersey’s communities are some of the hardest hit (by the heroin and opiate addiction) epidemic in the world,” he said. “It also has a large population, and it’s close to our headquarters outside Philadelphia.”
Phaedra Trethan: (856) 486-2417; email@example.com