Milestone recovers from shutdown with eye toward growth

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After being closed for nearly three months because of a personnel shortage, Milestone Recovery reopened its Portland detoxification program Monday with nearly five times the staff it had in March and hope for expansion.

Milestone is southern Maine’s only independent, nonprofit detoxification program; its closure came on the heels of Maine reporting its highest number of overdose deaths in a year.

Oliver Bradeen, executive director of Milestone Recovery, shown in March when the India Street agency was forced to shut down, said additional funding and staff now make it possible to reopen. (Portland Phoenix/Elizabeth Clemente)

Executive Director Oliver Bradeen last week said the increased staffing was made possible with the help of federal aid and private donations.

He said Milestone is also requesting nearly $700,000 from the federal government to expand its detox program in the future.

As reported in March, Milestone closed and reopened several times during the pandemic due to a shortage of medical personnel; it lost several employees last year, including many who were afraid of being exposed to the coronavirus. Bradeen said the facility recently filled 12 nursing positions and is continuing to hire.

While he is excited the program is back, Bradeen also said he knows Milestone’s closing was a serious problem for its clients. On average, he said, Milestone received 19 calls a day from people seeking treatment during its shutdown.

“Just looking at the numbers and math I’m certain that somebody who attempted to call over the last three months died from an overdose, and that’s really frustrating to me,” he said. “It’s also why we took our time to reopen because we do not want to shut down again.”

Other options for people seeking detox treatment in Maine are limited to alternatives distant from Portland: Wellspring in Bangor, Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, or Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport, or for-profit centers that are often costly.

The primary path to reopening was to expand Milestone’s staff – an issue related to the facility’s financial situation, Bradeen said, since Milestone was previously “not able to pay very well.”

After doing market research and landing on a competitive wage for staff, he said, the next challenge was finding a way to fund higher wages.

One source was Paycheck Protection Program money the agency received during the pandemic, as well as the state’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future. Bradeen said state funding and MaineCare billing will fund the program when the next fiscal year begins July 1.

He described Milestone’s staff prior to reopening as “bareboned,” with only four or five full-time medical personnel and without key positions like a director of nursing. The recent hiring included a nursing director and will allow an additional nurse on the overnight shift.

Bradeen said Milestone also hopes to expand its detoxification program, and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, recently included the program in her proposal for Community Project Funding.

Facilities like Milestone that accept MaineCare are currently limited by federal rules to not more than 16 beds. Community Project Funding allows federal spending to be directed to eligible projects conducted by state or local governments or nonprofits.

The proposal, Bradeen said, requests $690,000 to allow Milestone to at least double its current capacity, which would mean offering 24 detox beds. The funding would likely not be available until September.

If the funding is approved, Bradeen said the plan is for Milestone’s detox services to move to a new building in Portland, while the rest of Milestone’s services would remain at 65 India St.

The new detox program would ideally be a “one-stop shop” for clients, Bradeen said, allowing them to meet the counselors they would work with in outpatient treatment while still in detox.

He said he is grateful to be looking ahead.

“I’m just really excited that we’re reopening and we’re going to serve the community again,” Bradeen said.