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Outbreak Grows At Major N.H. Addiction Treatment Center

courtesy photo

State health officials say there are now more than 100 cases of COVID-19 linked to an outbreak at one of the biggest residential addiction treatment centers in the state.

Visit our earlier reporting on this story

This update comes after clients and staff told NHPR that management of Green Mountain Treatment Center in Effingham was not prepared for the now ongoing COVID outbreak there.

The complains include reports of little to no enforcement of mask wearing and a lack of social distancing -- even moving COVID positive patients into rooms with people who had tested negative for the illness.

Meanwhile, the state says it's not investigating any of this. Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with NHPR's Lauren Choolijan who first broke the story.

Note: This transcript was machine-generated and may contain errors  

Rick Ganley: So first, can you break down these latest numbers for us? More than 100 linked to one place. That seems like an awful lot.

Lauren Choolijan: Yes. So, you know well, Rick, at this point that congregate living facilities really have been some of the places hardest hit by COVID. But right now, the state says there are 67 residents and 35 staff cases linked to the outbreak at Green Mountain. And just for context, Green Mountain has taken on anywhere from 80 to more than 100 clients for treatment at a time.

But also, I just want to say that it's possible that that number doesn't fully show the scope of this outbreak, as many clients left campus after finding out there was COVID there. And many of the ones that I talked to tested when they got home, and two of those people live out of state. And I certainly haven't spoken to everyone who was exposed and left the facility. So while the state may know of more than 100 cases, it's honestly very hard to know the full scope of the numbers here.

Rick Ganley: Yeah, and per your reporting this week, clients and staff say a lot of this could have been prevented if the company had just been prepared for it.

Lauren Choolijan: Yeah, exactly. And I should say more tips have been coming into my inbox ever since the story came out. And I also want to add that Granite Recovery Center CEO Eric Spofford has said that his company has been complying with CDC guidelines since the beginning of the pandemic. Granite Recovery Centers is the company that manages Green Mountain Treatment Center and a bunch of other treatment properties around the state. But despite my many attempts, Spofford and his press spokesperson have declined to respond to these complaints from clients and staff.

Rick Ganley: We mentioned that Granite Recovery Centers is one of the biggest providers in New Hampshire. The state has spent millions fighting drug addiction in recent years. What's the company's relationship like with the state?

Lauren Choolijan: Yeah, so Granite Recovery Centers plays a pretty big part in New Hampshire's response to addiction. And CEO Eric Spofford is pretty well known. His company receives a significant amount of state funding. I mean, one go to example is this no bid contract they got in 2019 for respite beds. They were awarded $1 million by the state. And as I understand it, that money wasn't conditional on filling those beds. It was just to have them available for people who are homeless or waiting for a spot to open up at a treatment center.

And Spofford has really made himself available to kind of bail out the state when it's in a tough spot. Like listeners might remember the back and forth over the homeless encampment in Manchester about a month ago. Many news outlets reported that the state actually called Eric Spofford for help. And he went out to the encampment in Manchester himself and offered beds to people. And he ended up moving some of them. I'm not sure how many, but he moved them to one of the properties he runs in Derry.

Rick Ganley: Okay, so there is a relationship here between the state and Garntie Recovery Centers. Has the state mentioned anything about your reporting this week?

Lauren Choolijan: So the first response from them really came [Thursday]. Our reporter Jordyn Haime had asked the governor during his weekly press conference if he had a response to the story, and he actually deferred the question to the head of the health department, Laurie Shibinett. And she said that the Attorney General's office got some communication about it and that the AG's office is now looking into it. Now, stay with me, Rick, because I got confused here because it turns out no, actually, they aren't looking into it.

I called the AG's office after the presser and they said, no, we're not looking into Green Mountain Treatment Center right now. We actually already did. What happened was the AG's office says it got just one complaint about two and a half weeks ago. So the AG's office called up there. They, quote, worked through it with them to make sure they were complying, and that was it. Now, separately, Commissioner Shibinette and the state health department, they could investigate Green Mountain just like they could investigate any other facility that they licensed. But we wouldn't know if they did that because per state law, those investigations are confidential.

Rick Ganley: But we see reports about restaurants, pizza places, bars around the state who were fined or warned by the attorney general's office because they had people in there without wearing masks. I don't understand the issue here.

Lauren Choolijan: Right. So this is why this was all very confusing for me, too. Because, yes, of course, we've seen other businesses have been dinged for not following COVID protocols. But the attorney general's office basically told me that each of these complaints are assessed on a case by case basis, and that's all I really know. But I can tell you that I have heard from so many people this week, as I mentioned, former clients, current staff, other staff who have recently quit because of this. And they tell me that they're frustrated, and angry and they're honestly sad that in their view, this outbreak was so mismanaged.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Lauren is a Senior Reporter/Producer for NHPR's narrative news unit, Document.
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