Rumors of West Orange methadone clinic are unfounded

Medical center looks to expand in new WO home

WEST ORANGE, NJ — Contrary to rumors, Zufall Health will not open a methadone clinic when it eventually moves to a larger location in West Orange.

Zufall President and CEO Eva Turbiner told the West Orange Chronicle that the nonprofit medical and dental care provider — which treats all people regardless of their ability to pay — does not even have a license to provide treatment for substance abuse. In fact, Turbiner said her organization has strict rules about prescribing any sort of opioid to patients in pain, stressing that Zufall does not want to encourage the growth of opioid use in the United States.

Overall, Turbiner said residents can expect the same type of health center as Zufall’s existing West Orange location on Northfield Avenue.

“We are not a drug abuse clinic,” Turbiner said in a Feb. 16 phone interview. “I’m sure every doctor’s office in the country has some patients who have issues, but that’s not what we specialize in. That isn’t who our patients are in general. We are a family medical center.”

A larger Zufall clinic in West Orange would offer the same services its Northfield location already provides, Turbiner said, including adult and pediatric care medical and dental care. But she said the larger facility would allow the nonprofit to present educational programs, such as nutrition workshops, which are offered at Zufall centers that have meeting space. She said it would also enable Zufall to double its staff size, which could potentially cut appointment wait time in half. The president and CEO said the West Orange center’s approximately 3,500 patients currently have a 12-week wait to get a dental appointment and a two- or three-week wait to schedule a physical.

Turbiner added that having a Zufall center downtown, which is where the nonprofit wants to be, would benefit the area. For one, she said staff members would frequent local restaurants and shops, and the center would order food for meetings from nearby establishments. She said Zufall likes to use local services for cleaning and other needs, and it also intends to hire locals for some of its new positions. At least a few of those employees not from West Orange will likely move to town once they start working at the center, she said.

“We like to be an asset to our local communities,” Turbiner said. “It’s important to us.”

In addition, Turbiner said Zufall Health is looking to spend $4 million to purchase a property in addition to a $1 million grant it obtained from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to make improvements on a West Orange building. But the nonprofit has to find the right property before making such an investment, and she acknowledged that it will be challenging to find one that meets its requirements. Specifically, she said Zufall would like an approximately 9,000-square-foot building on a bus route, easily accessed by patients without a vehicles. At the same time, she said, there should be plenty of room for parking.

Zufall was interested in one building on Harrison Avenue, but Turbiner said that property was taken off the market before a deal could be made. Zufall is not considering any other space in particular at this time, she said, but is open to suggestions.

The Downtown West Orange Alliance is helping Zufall Health in its search. Executive Director Megan Brill told the Chronicle she has talked about a few places with the nonprofit, though she did not wish to comment on exactly where at this point.

Wherever Zufall ends up, Brill believes the organization will have a beneficial impact on the downtown district. She said the services it offers have the potential to drive foot traffic into the area, where patients can visit stores and restaurants. Turbiner mentioned that a large portion of Zufall’s patients walk to its centers.

So before any more false rumors are spread, Brill said she hopes residents will think about what Zufall would mean for downtown.

“It’s a very nice company,” Brill said in a Feb. 16 phone interview. “They want to be a partner with our township and our community. I would hope that West Orange would try to get to know them before they make crazy deductions.”

Brill even invited Zufall Health representatives to make a presentation before a DWOA subcommittee in order to explain exactly what it could offer the downtown area. And many of the alliance members in attendance were indeed impressed. Chairman John McElroy said he believes a Zufall center would be a positive addition to the downtown district, especially considering its willingness to serve the uninsured or underinsured. That is not something many other hospitals would do, McElroy said.

“They’re providing a decent service to people who can’t afford it,” McElroy told the Chronicle in a Feb. 16 phone interview.

DWOA Trustee Mike Brick agreed that having Zufall in a larger facility downtown would be a real plus to the area after its Northfield center has already done so much good in West Orange. That is why he was disturbed to hear people spreading untrue rumors about the nonprofit’s plans for its pending move. If those people researched what the organization has to offer, Brick said, they would see they were grossly inaccurate.

Brick himself looked into Zufall and was glad to know it had a home in West Orange.

“I was really impressed,” Brick said. “West Orange is lucky to have a company like this in town supplying health services to our citizens.”

And Zufall enjoys being part of the West Orange community, Turbiner said, to the point that it has developed relationships with town agencies. She said the nonprofit, which has locations in six other New Jersey towns, has had an outreach worker help residents sign up for the Affordable Care Act at the West Orange Public Library and recently had its dental director speak to a group of school nurses so they could receive continuing education credits. She said the reception the center has received from patients — roughly 35 percent of whom live in West Orange — has also been wonderful.

That is why Zufall wants to move to a larger center, Turbiner said — to serve more of the West Orange community.