ROCHESTER — The Olmsted County Public Health Services Advisory Committee voted unanimously to declare a local substance abuse and mental health treatment center a public health nuisance.
During the commission’s regular meeting on Thursday, Nov. 2, Olmsted County Public Health Deputy Director Sagar Chowdhury and officials from the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office presented the Oak Ridge The Minnesota Department of Human Services ordered at least 15 corrective actions over the past seven years following a worrying “pattern” at the treatment center, which included several non-fatal overdoses and residents leaving.
“Since its opening on January 5, 2017, the police alone have received more than 500 calls for assistance,” Chowdhury said. “Between January and September 2023 alone, 138 calls for service were received. In addition, 378 Mayo Ambulance calls have been received since 2017.”
In addition, Chaudhry said county authorities noticed the agency was no longer calling law enforcement and instead was calling Mayo Clinic Ambulance Service directly.
Oakridge Treatment Center, located at 4800 NE 48th Street in Haverhill Township in northeast Rochester, is a men’s residential addiction and mental health treatment center operated by Meridian Behavioral Health of New Brighton, Minnesota. It can accommodate 70 residents, who can be hospitalized for up to 30 days.
Capt. Tim Parkin, OCSO public information officer, said most of Oakridge’s customers come from outside the county.
“We don’t actually recommend or place people in this facility,” Parkin said. “One thing that’s very — hate to say it, but that’s commonly known or discussed by people who are seeking to better themselves by going into treatment is, as we all know, don’t go to Oak Ridge because of the easy access to controlled substances there.”
Officials said the number of calls to emergency services was unusual compared to similar facilities in the area.
“What I’m hearing is that this is appalling compared to any other standard of treatment facilities from anyone I’ve talked to,” Parkin said.
Parkin recalled an incident in September when law enforcement officers were called to Oak Ridge in response to four overdoses.
“Several of those people had to be transported immediately by ambulance,” Parkin said. “We found out the next day that four more overdoses had occurred right after that… We had only been called to the first four. We think this is a growing issue. serious problem.”
OSCO Lt. Malinda Hanson added that the Sheriff’s Office was aware of a “continuous and imminent danger” to Oakridge customers leaving the facility’s grounds and “the failure of staff to follow and ensure their safety while inside the facility. Or notify someone that they’ve left.” The most recent incident occurred on Friday, Oct. 27, when a deputy received a call about someone loitering in the area, Hansen said.
“They were sent to a residence in Rochester for their safety and they had a place to go the next day,” Hansen said. “Twenty-four hours or more later, the facility contacted us just to let them know Us, we’re reminded that someone has left their facility.”
The calls diverted law enforcement and ambulance services away from Rochester and other parts of the county, Parkin said, and incidents in which facility staff failed to call 911 raised concerns among authorities.
“What we’re hearing is … some patients have received two, three or even four rounds of naloxone before they make the 911 call,” Parkin said, referring to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. . “It shocks me because if they put the patient’s needs first, then when someone sees a patient collapse, they’re going to call 911.”
According to OCPHS, Oakridge has documented seven cases of abuse over the past three years, including two sex crimes. In 2022, a former Oakridge employee was charged and convicted of criminal sexual conduct against two customers.
In Minnesota, a determination of a public health nuisance can include situations where a child or vulnerable adult is at risk.
“Under state statute, a public health nuisance is defined as any activity or inaction that adversely affects public health,” Chowdhury said.
Chowdhury said the statement document will be delivered to Oak Ridge in the coming days as the advisory committee agrees. The facility has up to 10 days to eliminate or mitigate the public health threat, and further action by the county could include revoking the facility’s public accommodations license.
The state Department of Human Services also “escalated the situation in some way based on our advice,” Chowdhury said.
In addition to OCPHS and OSCO, Olmsted County’s Department of Adult and Family Services, County Attorney’s Office and County Administration recommended to the advisory committee that Oakridge be declared a public health nuisance.
“The company that owns the facility is aware of what is going on and has been paying attention because reports have been sent to the most senior people in the organization,” said Senior Assistant County Attorney Jennifer Plante. “No action has been taken yet. Any action to resolve this issue.”