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State takes control of Serenity Place; Manchester charity to run it for six months

By MARK HAYWARD
New Hampshire Union Leader

December 20. 2017 3:51PM
Stephanie Bergeron speaks during a tour of the Serenity Place at the old police station on Chestnut Street in Manchester last April.. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)



MANCHESTER — Serenity Place -- the substance abuse treatment center that mushroomed over the last two years in the face of the opioid crisis -- was taken over by state officials Wednesday and placed into the hands of another Manchester charity, which will run it for six months, state officials said.

The day-to-day operations of Serenity Place will continue, said Dick Anagnost, chairman of Families in Transition, which was named receiver today in Hillsborough County Superior Court-North.

Most drug users who go through Safe Station end up in Serenity Place. And many involved in Hillsborough County drug court are sent their for treatment. The organization also runs a small residential detox program, shelter for people in Safe Station, transitional living service, programs for DWI offenders and recovery support.

In making the announcement, New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald said his Charitable Trusts Unit, which oversees charities in New Hampshire, started an investigation after receiving a tip about Serenity Place’s financial shape.

The Charitable Trust United said Serenity Place has had on operating deficit of more than $600,000 since July 1. It owes bills of $161,700 and payroll tax liabilities of $182,600.

“Serenity Place provides critical services, including residential treatment, outpatient treatment, respite, and recovery to those with a substance use

disorder. It is imperative that those critical services continue. Families In Transition is poised to act as the receiver and operate Serenity Place,” MacDonald said.

Families in Transitions operates housing and support programs for families who are homeless or close to homeless, many of them victims of abuse. Earlier this year, it merged with New Horizons, the largest homeless shelter and soup kitchen in the Queen City.

Anagnost said he was contacted about a week ago by MacDonald’s office, the Manchester Fire Department and state heath officials who run substance abuse programs.

He said the problem intensified when Serenity Place lost its clinical director recently and no one was available to oversee treatment programs. The head of rehabilitative services for Families in Transition will take over that role, he said. He said the only visibile changes initially will be three upper mangement.

FiT will also engage an accounting firm to review the books, he said. A judge will eventually determine if Serenity Place survives. FiT must provide monthly reports to the judge overseeing the receivership. The receivership will expire next June 30 unless otherwise extended.

In a statement, Gov. Chris Sununu said he was shocked and saddened to hear about problems at Serenity Place. He said he was fully briefed about the matter Tuesday and agreed with MacDonald to seek the receivership.

“These developments underscore the need for accountability and transparency in substance use disorder (SUD) programs,” Sununu said. “We cannot simply spend taxpayer dollars on this problem without knowing where that money is flowing and without a clear plan for measuring outcomes and results. To that end, while the State will continue to provide financial support for these critical programs, we will also continue our work in auditing every program that receives state resources to ensure that these programs have long term stability and ensure sound accounting practices are followed.”

mhayward@unionleader.com


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