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Serenity Place lays off 21, judge approves transition plans

By MARK HAYWARD
New Hampshire Union Leader

January 24. 2018 8:32AM
“There is no path forward we can see for Serenity (Place) to operate independently,” said Tom Donovan, the AG office's director of charitable trusts, on Tuesday. Executive director Stephanie Bergeron, above, resigned before the bankrupt Manchester addiction-treatment program went into receivership. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER FILE)



MANCHESTER — Serenity Place, the addiction-treatment program that fell into financial crisis last month, was divided up on Tuesday and parceled among several social service, drug treatment and health care organizations.

The transfer of programs meant the end to a treatment and recovery operation that mushroomed in the last three years to accommodate the opioid crisis, the Manchester Safe Station program and the Hillsborough County North Drug Court in Manchester.

Last month, Superior Court Judge Amy Messer put Serenity Place into receivership at the request of New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald after the organization could not pay bills. The top officials of the organization, including Executive Director Stephanie Bergeron, resigned before the receivership.

“There is no path forward we can see for Serenity (Place) to operate independently,” said Tom Donovan, MacDonald’s director of charitable trusts, on Tuesday.

Donovan, said services will continue for all people enrolled in Serenity Place programs. But 21 Serenity Place employees will not be transferred to jobs in the new organizations and will be laid off.

On Tuesday, Messer approved the latest plan sought by Donovan.

The highlights:

• Families in Transition, the organization appointed receiver of Serenity Place, will assume control of two transitional living programs — Tirrell House for men and Lin’s Place for women.

• The Farnum Center will take over intensive outpatient program, outpatient services, and the crisis program Respite, which provided a bed for people who went through Safe Station. Respite will move to 700 Lake Ave. Farnum Center Director Cheryl Wilke said Respite will become more of a treatment program than a residential program.

• Manchester’s Elliot Hospital will provide programs associated with Hillsborough County North Drug Court.

• The Seacoast-based Granite Pathways will open a location in Manchester and provide the recovery and support services for Serenity Place clients.

• Several organizations will offer the impaired-driver education programs that Serenity Place has historically provided.

• U.S. probation and parole officers will oversee drug testing and urinalysis.

Many programs were operated under state contracts. Gov. Chris Sununu and the Executive Council are expected to meet todayand transfer the contracts.

Families in Transition head Maureen Beauregard stressed that numerous organizations — including one from the Seacoast — have become part of a solution, and no one organization is bearing the burden. She said it represents the coming together of the treatment and recovery communities.

“I know it’s a sad story about Serenity Place. If we’re to glean anything from this, it is the community has come together,” Beauregard said. Donovan also praised Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig and Health Director Tim Soucy for their work in developing the transition plan.

Donovan’s filings with the court suggest the reason for some of the financial problems. State Medicaid officials were not paying some bills because services were not provided by properly credentialed providers.

“I don’t know if it’s illegal, but it’s not a way to get paid,” he said. He said the Attorney General’s office continues to investigate Serenity Place.

Donovan also disclosed that Serenity Place had a December bank balance of $8,645 when it was placed into receivership. Its operating deficit exceeded $1 million.

Tuesday’s ruling does not address the $153,000 that the organization owes about 50 contractors and tradespeople, Donovan said. Serenity Place owns one piece of property — a treatment center on Manchester Street. Several mortgages are attached to the property, but Donovan believes some equity exists.

Former attorney general Joseph Foster, who represents FiT, said a “mini-bankruptcy” could take place, in which lawyers will ask Messer to approve a future payment plan.

mhayward@unionleader.com


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