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Key Drug Treatment Center in N.H. Taken Over by State Due to Poor Finances

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A key player in the state’s fight against drug addiction has gone under financially, after running a deficit of more than half a million dollars.

A state investigation unveiled that Serenity Place in Manchester failed to adequately bill for Medicaid eligible services and took on more than they could handle to meet the increasing demand.

Families in Transition, a neighboring non-profit organization, has agreed to step in and continue services for the next six months.

Tom Donovan, Director of the Charitable Trusts Unit who’s running the investigation under the Attorney General’s Office, said nothing found at Serenity Place has been deemed criminal.

“It was just too much for them, too quickly,” Donovan said. “They didn’t have the systems in place to expand as rapidly as they did, they more than doubled in size in a three year period and it wasn’t anything they could cope with any longer,” he said, adding that if the state didn’t step in this decades old organization would have collapsed within the month.

Credit Casey McDermott/NHPR
During the takeover, Executive Director Stephanie Bergeron (left) has had to step down along with the entire Serenity Place board.

Since last year, Serenity Place has been referred nearly 2,000 people from the city's Safe Station Program, where anyone can walk into a firehouse in Manchester and ask for substance abuse help.

Mayor-elect Joyce Craig said she plans to sit down with key stakeholders when she starts next month to figure out a more sustainable model for the program.

“The need is there and, you know what, they stepped up and they did the best that they could to help everybody, and I think that what we’ve seen now is that one entity can’t handle the volume of the needs,” Craig said.

In a statement Wednesday, Gov. Chris Sununu said he was “shocked and saddened” by what was happening at Serenity Place. He said, “These developments underscore the need for accountability and transparency in substance use disorder programs. We cannot simply spend taxpayer dollars on this problem without knowing where that money is flowing and without a clear plan for measuring outcomes and results.”

Credit Paige Sutherland/NHPR
Manchester Fire Chief Dan Goonan last year walks a client who entered Safe Station over to Serenity Place.

Over the course of fiscal years 2017 and 2018, Serenity Place has been given $3,273,081 in state funding for various substance abuse services. 

Commissioner of Health and Human Services Jeff Meyers said given the state's opioid crisis his department recently started auditing all of the 35 providers who've been given state money for substance abuse services. Meyers said the audits are in the early stages and he expects the process to take several months.

"A lot of the organizations that have received state funds are relatively new, and they've grown very quickly in response to the opioid crisis in New Hampshire, so we want to work collaboratively with them but we want to ensure their accountability as we continue to direct very significant public funding to them," Meyers said.

Families in Transition will have to provide the state monthly reports on how the takeover is going, but after six months the fate of Serenity Place is still up in the air. The organization could be taken over by FIT permanently, its services dissolved throughout multiple providers or shut down completely. 

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