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Manchester firehouses wind down walk-in screenings for people seeking help for substance misuse

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Chief Andre Parent with the Manchester Fire Department says the close of the Safe Station program doesn’t mean the services at firehouses will conclude immediately.

Since 2016, people looking for help related to substance misuse could visit any Manchester fire station for medical screening and a handoff to services.

After 8,000 walk-ins, that program (known as “Safe Station”) is ending and transitioning to the region’s Doorway program. The Doorway of Great Manchester already offers substance use services on-site.

But Chief Andre Parent with the Manchester Fire Department says the program at firehouses won't conclude immediately.

“We're not stopping cold turkey.” Parent explains. He says until word spreads that the program has ended, firehouses will continue to help people who ask for these services.

Right now, he says, the department has put up new signage, directing people to The Doorway of Greater Manchester or to call 2-1-1 after business hours are over.

The Safe Station program started as an access point to aid in a response to the opioid crisis. Since then, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services established The Doorway program, with nine locations across the state.

Parent says foot traffic for the Safe Station program has declined, as The Doorway’s impact grows.

Parent says the Safe Station was always supposed to be a temporary program. “Now that there's organizations that have stood up throughout the state, it's time for the professionals in that industry to take over.”

While the fire department offered an in-person assessment 24/7 with the Safe Station program, the Doorway currently does not have the same hours of in-person screening, although 2-1-1 takes callers any time of day.

But Tim Soucy, senior executive director of community health and mission at Catholic Medical Center who oversees The Doorway of Greater Manchester, says that’s about to change too.

Soucy hopes a 24/7 physical location will be up and running in the next couple of weeks, as he navigates a few final hurdles.

Right now, he says, hiring for the team is well underway, but filling healthcare positions is tricky, amidst the ongoing worker shortage in the industry.

Increased funding for the location was also put on hold, following an anti-COVID-19 vaccine mandate protest that canceled an Executive Council meeting last week. The funding will be voted on at the next meeting, on Oct. 13.