After months of waiting to receive state licensing to operate on Penikese Island, a treatment center for adolescent boys with substance abuse and mental health issues will move temporarily to New Hampshire.
The Department of Public Health has raised questions about client safety and accessibility issues in conjunction with the remote island setting, prompting the organization to seek an alternative site at the Baker Valley Treatment Center in Warren, N.H.
Penikese leadership say they are working well with DPH, but the licensure process is taking longer than they thought. “We underestimated how much work we had to do but we are definitely getting through it now,” said Ted Doyle, a member of the board of directors at Penikese. They had originally planned to open the school in mid-August. Penikese is unlike any other program in Massachusetts that the state agency has dealt with before, Mr. Doyle said. The proposed setting is a 75-acre island in the Elizabeth islands chain, situated next to Cuttyhunk. It takes one hour to reach the island by boat. Penikese shares the island with a state-owned bird sanctuary.
Mr. Doyle said he remains optimistic that the state license will ultimately be granted. “About 90 per cent of what they have asked us to do is taken care of,” he said.
Penikese North will open its doors to new clients on Nov. 18. Meanwhile, the board will continue to pursue full licensing on the island, a setting which allows kids disconnect from the outside world and confront the underlying causes of their substance abuse.
“It’s a magic place, it’s a very spiritual place, it is a very calming place,” Mr. Doyle said, comparing Penikese to a “mini Vineyard.” For adolescents who have struggled with substance abuse, he said a change of context is important to their recovery.
Some staff will move to Penikese North, while others will continue preparations on the island.
Mr. Doyle said Penikese, which operated as a year-round school from 1973 to 2011, has always been hyper aware of client safety as a result of their isolated location. In the event of an emergency, he said, helicopters can rescue people from the Island, just like they might collect someone from a remote ski area.
“We have never had a tragedy in 40 years, we have never had any one die,” Mr. Doyle said. “We have a terrific relationship with the Coast Guard, [and] the state police . . . and we have very sophisticated emergency procedures here.” The Penikese Island School was founded in 1973 by George Cadwalader, a former marine. The school served adolescents who were involved with the criminal justice system and were unable to receive schooling in a traditional environment. Staff and clients at the school included many Vineyarders over the years. The now-defunct school received public funding and kept students for six to nine months. It closed in February 2011 due to a shortage of funding. The school never required Department of Public Health approval before now. In an email to the Gazette, Anne Roach, a spokesmen for the Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Substance Abuse Services, said the department is working collaboratively with the school to resolve remaining issues around its application, including compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. “The proposed island location presents unique challenges, but the department and the applicant are working closely to address regulatory requirements,” she wrote.