By Kendall McGee | October 1, 2020 at 5:52 PM EDT – Updated October 1 at 7:23 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) -A Wilmington detox facility is scheduled to close its doors at the end of the month.
The Harbor is New Hanover County’s only state funded detox center, meaning if you don’t have insurance, the next closest place you can get help is Jacksonville.
Starting October 23, The Harbor will be unable to take on new patients because of a transfer of the property from the county to New Hanover Regional Medical Center.
According to hospital spokesman Julian March, NHRMC bought the property from the county three years ago to allow the hospital to grow. The hospital has provided The Harbor that time to find a new space and offered additional time to use the property at no cost if the company that runs The Harbor, RHA Health Services, could make arrangements to continue the service elsewhere.
“We remain hopeful that the services offered by The Harbor can continue at another location. If RHA determines that is not possible, then we will work with community partners to link patients to appropriate care. Our Emergency Department and Behavioral Health units will care for all patients who need their services and are continually evaluating how to prepare for different circumstances,” March wrote in an email.
If the doors close, many people in Wilmington struggling with addiction will have nowhere to go.
Since news broke that The Harbor was shutting down, a group of passionate advocates launched a campaign to make sure people without insurance can still get help. Save The Harbor has been contacting city and county leaders as well as health companies to find a way to save the facility.
What started with the group holding signs on street corners has grown into a massive community awareness effort. The Save The Harbor petition online now boats more than 18,000 signatures.
The group is concerned the detox facility closing will have a big picture impact on the Cape Fear region.
“If there’s not a detox facility state-funded, it will be an absolute community problem. It will be a crime problem for Wilmington Police Department, the sheriffs department. It will be an absolute problem for the emergency rooms for New Hanover Regional Medical Center- they will see increases all across-the-board,” said organizer Cheryl Walters.
Jimmy Smith has been in recovery for about two years now and knows about the consequences that come with addiction firsthand.
“Addiction destroys our lives and not only do we lose family and friends, we lose our houses, our cars and we end up with nothing,” said Smith. “Its a lifetime process, you don’t just get well overnight. Its a disease we have to carry for the rest of our lives.”
Everyone who’s involved with the Save The Harbor campaign has a personal connection to the cause.
Tammy Lou Payne credits The Harbor for saving her life. When she walked into the detox center, she had no insurance. In the past two years, shes found a path to sobriety and is now an active part of the recovery community.
“I realized I had a real drinking problem and I was an alcoholic and I needed help,” said Payne. “Walking through those doors is terrifying on one hand, but on the other hand, you have an understanding that you’re gonna get the help that you need and when you talk to people and realize you’re not alone in this struggle, it brings such hope.”
Cheryl Walters is one of the group’s founders. She lost three of her brothers to drug overdoses. She’s using her own heartbreak as fuel to fight for people struggling with addiction so other families don’t experience the same loss.
“That’s how I’m channeling my grief now by standing in the space of the uninsured. All three of them were uninsured. One was a military vet who had been blown up and injured and on three tours,” said Walters. “This is honoring my brothers. This is absolutely giving someone just like them the opportunity to live and want a better life.”
While Save The Harbor is focusing on keeping the detox center open right now, their mission goes far past one facility. The bigger goal Walters is working towards is to address the gap in care for the uninsured and ensure there’s enough beds available in New Hanover County to support the area’s massive recovery community.
The Harbor detox center is an important first step on the road to recovery for some, while for others its a place they can turn to should they relapse.
“I can tell you if there’s not an option they get their suitcase, if they have a suitcase, sometimes its just a trash bag. And they walk down the driveway and if there’s not a solution, I can promise you, they’ll probably end up on a motel on Market Street,” said Walters.
Its a life and death reminder of why providing a recovery option for those without insurance is so important. No one plans on becoming an addict, but everyone deserves a second chance.
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