Operator Malvern Institute would staff a security guard 24 hours a day at its proposed facility off Dewberry Avenue but posts a guard only four to seven hours a day at its home facility in Chester County, Chief of Security Tim Hubbard told the zoning hearing board.
Hubbard said there have been few problems at the facility during his four years as security chief or the 15 years in total he’s been a local police officer. There have been “rare occasions” when drugs have been smuggled in and only two incidents in four years where the police were called, he said.
The two incidents were a minor physical altercation between a resident and a staff member, and a case in which one resident stole another resident's portable music player, Hubbard said.
Tonight’s hearing was the third for a proposal to open a 70-bed inpatient drug rehabilitation facility at the former Calvary Baptist Church at 111 Dewberry Ave. Several dozen residents again attended tonight’s hearing to object to the facility’s proposed location next to Bethlehem Catholic High School and in a residential neighborhood.
Blake Marles, the attorney for developer Abraham Atiyeh, pointed out that Bethlehem only allows inpatient drug rehabilitation facilities in residential neighborhoods. Malvern CEO Joseph Curran said he believes drug detoxification and rehabilitation works best within communities.
Bethlehem Catholic High School, Bethlehem City Council and a group of local residents all have hired separate attorneys to fight the proposed center. Residents’ attorney Steven Goudsouzian asked Hubbard if he knew the intent of drug-free school zones and if he agreed students are a susceptible population.
Hubbard said he agreed that students are more easily influenced but that Malvern patients have to stop their drug use when they are admitted.“High school students are susceptible to people with malicious intent,” Goudsouzian said.
Hubbard said he would have no problem with his children attending a high school next to a drug rehabilitation facility.“They are not actively engaging in illegal activity while at Malvern,” he said.
Becahi attorney Joseph Leeson Jr. twice brought up state department of health violations against Malvern’s inpatient facility in Chester County. Leeson pointed out that the facility’s violations have tripled from six in 2008 to 18 in 2011.
Curran didn’t go into detail, but department of health records search showed the violations varied greatly.“The violations cover a variety of areas,” Curran responded.
Most were record keeping violations such as failing to conduct some employee evaluations or filing proper paperwork. Several in 2011 concerned an ongoing bedbug problem. One recent violation dealt with a patient using heroin within a facility bathroom.
Curran testified that because Malvern only accepts insured patients or those who can pay out of pocket, most of its patients are fairly high functioning, mostly still employed and with intact families.
Tonight’s hearing went for more than four hours without a vote. Testimony will be continued at 4 p.m. Dec. 19 with one more developer's witness. Objectors will get to testify in January, officials said.“It’s not likely our person would be different than the person that is next door in the community,” Curran said.
Atiyeh also has proposed a 60-bed drug rehabilitation center for juveniles within the 3400 block of Linden Street in the city. That proposal has yet to be considered by the zoning hearing board.