The St. Joseph's Addiction Treatment & Recovery Centers has been working for the past few years to establish a community residence for veterans suffering from addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder. This much-needed service is one of only four of its kind in New York state, supported by a grant award from the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, and the St. Joseph's community is excited to be in the final stages of planning the program and the $2.6 million building which will make this initiative a reality.
With the prospect of many additional veterans returning from Afghanistan and those who have already returned from Iraq, this St. Joseph's veterans program, to be located on the St, Joseph's campus, is more needed than ever. St. Joseph's regards the establishment of the community residence for veterans suffering from addiction and PTSD to be both an OPPORTUNITY and an OBLIGATION. It is an OPPORTUNITY to provide much needed support for veterans and their families with special needs, and an OBLIGATION to do right by the brave 1 percent of individuals who have volunteered to serve and protect the rest of us.
We acknowledge the leadership of both Gov. David Paterson and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and OASAS commissioners Carpenter-Palumbo and Gonzalez-Sanchez, for maintaining funding for these veteran programs despite the dire economic budget climate over the past few years. We are also appreciative of the confidence placed in St. Joseph's to be one of the provider agencies chosen to create these new services for a deserving and underserved veteran population.
Some individuals in the community have recently raised questions about how the program will operate and where it will be located on the St. Joseph's campus, and we recognize the importance of being responsive to these appropriate questions and concerns. It has been and continues to be a challenge to create the quality of services that the veterans need and deserve, including the construction of a healing space that will assist their recovery, on a very tight budget. Much effort and thought has been expended and expertise sought and received in pursuit of an optimum program design (including 24-7 staff coverage and careful admissions screening) and facility plan. The potential location of the facility has shifted a number of times in the planning process to address constraints of funding and topography. Despite the generous 25-plus acres of the St. Joseph's campus, there is very little of that acreage that is not steeply sloped and filled with rock ledges and outcroppings.
I have met with a number of members of the Saranac Lake community who have programmatic questions and concerns about the facility location and will continue to do so, including at the public hearing at the town hall at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 18. St. Joseph's, and I personally, remain committed to the following three goals as we look to finalize our plans for the establishment of this vital new veterans addiction and PTSD service:
1. that the quality of the services are at the highest professional level incorporating current best practices
2. that St. Joseph's continually explore new and improved approaches to fulfill its mission of serving the most needy addicted individuals and their families
3. that St. Joseph's maintain and expand its excellent partnership with the Saranac Lake community so that it fulfills its obligation to be a good and contributing citizen in support of its neighbors.
The implementation of the St. Joseph's veterans program also represents an important positive economic development opportunity for Saranac Lake as it will create 15 new professional positions - a 10-plus percent increase in the number of St. Joseph's employees.
I cannot guarantee that there will be no variances of opinion on what are the best specific ways to accomplish all of St. Joseph's objectives regarding the implementation of the St. Joseph's veterans community residence program for addiction and PTSD, but I do promise to work as diligently as I know how to achieve an excellent program outcome which is as responsive to community concerns as possible and enjoys the maximum possible community support to fulfill our OPPORTUNITY and OBLIGATION to our veterans.
The Saranac Lake community has a unique commitment and tradition as a healing community; working together, I am confident that St. Joseph's and the Saranac Lake community can add an effective collaboration on the St. Joseph's veterans program to this valuable tradition.
Bob Ross is CEO of St. Joseph's Addiction Treatment & Recovery Centers, based in Saranac Lake.