Rulings grant access to files of Serenity Place patientsBy MARK HAYWARD
New Hampshire Union Leader
March 19. 2018 9:55PM
MANCHESTER — Judges have granted state investigators access to confidential files of patients at Serenity Place, the addiction-treatment organization connected to Safe Station that abruptly closed late last year because of financial problems.
Rulings last week in Hillsborough County Superior Court and last month in Merrimack County Superior Court mean that investigators and administrative prosecutors will soon have access to both billing and treatment records of Serenity Place patients.
New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald and the state Board of Licensing for Alcohol and other Drug Use Professionals are investigating the collapse of Serenity Place. Last month, Merrimack County Judge John Kissinger authorized subpoenas for nearly all patient billing and treatment records.
“The Court determines that the public interest and need for these disclosures outweighs any potential injury to the patients, to the counselor-patient relationship, or to the treatment services,” Kissinger wrote. In a three-page order, Kissinger said the Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services (BDAS), which has custody of the records, Serenity Place, and the Serenity Place receiver, Families in Transition, must comply with subpoenas.
However, he noted that federal law requires that the organizations notify any patients before their files are disclosed. And he noted that federal law requires that confidential communications that the patients made to Serenity Place staff must be blacked out.
State officials have said that Serenity Place was overwhelmed by the number of patients it started seeing once Safe Station, the no-questions asked portal into treatment located at Manchester fire stations, grew in popularity. The organization experienced cash flow issues due to “faulty or absent billing for Medicaid services provided to clients, as well as more widespread deficiencies in financial controls,” MacDonald’s office has said in court papers.
Court papers say that some holders of alcohol and drug counselor licenses could potentially be prosecuted for violations of administrative law.
Meanwhile, in a Manchester courtroom a judge is considering how to give patients access to their own files, which remain in the custody of the Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services.
“Since the closure of Serenity Place, BDAS has received approximately 20 to 30 phone calls a week from former Serenity Place patients who are seeking their records or files,” reads a filing MacDonald’s office made last week. Patients need their treatment files to prove participation in court-mandated treatment programs, the filing reads.
MacDonald’s office asked for custody of the treatment records and spelled out a process to allow former patients to receive access to their records. Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Amy Messer last week indicated a willingness to do so, but demanded more details.
In the meantime, the 70 boxes of patient treatment records remain with the BDAS. Fifty boxes of financial records have been transferred to Families in Transition.
Also last week, Messer approved a short-term lease that allows Families in Transition to continue operating the Lin’s Place program at the Serenity Place property at 99 Manchester St. An appraiser had valued the fair-market monthly payment at $4,370.
Families in Transition plans to eventually relocate Lin’s Place to property on Wilson Street, possibly by June.