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Harris House proposes new in-patient treatment facility near Route 364

A long-time drug and alcohol treatment provider in the St. Louis area has plans for a new $11 million to $12 million inpatient treatment center to be located on an 11.5-acre unincorporated tract near the Route 364 intersection with Arena Parkway close tothe Missouri River.

Officials from Harris House, a treatment provider with locations in South St. Louis and Chesterfield, told the St. Charles County Council at its April 10 work session that they have a contract on the land and wanted to answer questions that local officials and nearby residents might have now before plans progress. The issue eventually may end up before the council.

Harris House has a contract on two tracts of land that will be combined for form one tract along Arena Parkway near Route 364 and would require a rezoning and a conditional use permit to build the treatment center. The rezoning and conditional use permit petitions may be submitted to the county’s planning and zoning commission in May. Their recommendations are sent to the council for a final decision.

Harris House, a not-for-profit corporation, offers inpatient and outpatient treatment and transitional housing programs for people struggling with alcohol and drugs. The agency currently provides various services at its main location on South Broadway in South St. Louis and outpatient services at a location in West St. Louis County off Mason Road.

Founded in 1961, the agency serves about 500 clients annually with about 111 beds through its programs. The agency also receives support as a United Way of Greater St. Louis member.

“Our mission is to save lives and we do that really well. We know that we can do more by expanding our campus and we want to do that here in St. Charles,” Becky Marsh, chair of the Harris House Board of Directors, told the council.

About 100 letters were sent to residents living within 1,000 feet of the property for an early 2017 “meet and greet” meeting, where agency officials described their plans and gathered input.

“When we walked in, I would say two-thirds of the group was not comfortable with Harris House moving in,” Chief Executive Officer Tom Wickenhauser said. “When we left the meeting, I would say about two-thirds of the group was positive about Harris House moving in.”

Wickenhauser said Harris House’s rates are cheaper and it can screen patients and be more selective than state-supported treatment programs.

“We are a local organization and I think that’s a big thing for people to understand, that our board members – all local, our people that are running the operation are local, and we have local jobs,” he said.

The not-for-profit portion of the agency’s program for patients who can pay little or nothing will remain at its South Broadway operation. The new facility is designed to provide inpatient treatment and detox programming for adults age 18 and older requiring a 28-day maximum stay.

Wickenhauser said the inpatient program now has 29 beds and may grow to 60 beds in three or four years in a new location. He said the agency is trying to keep its inpatient program affordable at $9,500 compared to the cost of similar 28-day programs that are more than $20,000.

Most of its clients are dealing with alcohol abuse followed by drug abuse and issues such as heroin.

“Yes, the heroin epidemic is real and we do see our share of that,” he said.

Wickenhauser said clients in the in-patient program cannot leave the facility without an escort. Clients also do not have private vehicles at the facility, but are often picked up or dropped off. The facility will not be a halfway house, it’s not a mental health facility or a methadone clinic although methadone patients are treated, he said.

Clients are screened and must have no violent history, no criminal history other than substance-related offenses, such as a DUI, and no suicide inclinations. The agency does not take mandated clients “because everyone at Harris House wants to get better.”

Harris House has a “holistic” treatment approach that combines medication management, mental health therapy and a 12-step treatment program. Residents also receive training in employment skills, anger and stress management, depression and anxiety. Clients are kept busy 35 hours a week in treatment with 14 state-licensed mental health therapists, he said. Detoxing is overseen by a full-time physician and nurse.

The center will be in a 44,000-square-foot, two-story building, which will not have a view of the nearby Katy Trail. Wickenhauser said a study by its real estate firm suggests that the facility will not have a negative effect on local property values – a concern of nearby residents. The property also is on a bluff area and not prone to flooding from the nearby Missouri River, he said.

Councilmember Joe Cronin [District 1] said he appreciated Harris House officials briefing the council and nearby residents prior to the issue coming before the council. Often the telephone calls start when a proposal “hits planning and zoning,” he said.

County Executive Steve Ehlmann noted that he would have to recuse himself from the issue because a relative is involved with nearby property.

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