Home Latest News Paradigm seeks to open teen treatment center in North Castle

Paradigm seeks to open teen treatment center in North Castle

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Program director Jerri Anna Phenix stands in what would be a teaching space for the adolescents who attend Paradigm Treatment Center in North Castle. Photo by Aleesia Forni

The fate of a California-based company’s plans to convert a 12,000-square-foot mansion in the town of North Castle into an adolescent treatment center hinges on the decision of a state official.

Paradigm Treatment Centers LLC, a company that operates a string of treatment facilities for teens and young adults on the West Coast, leased the property at 14-16 Cole Drive in August and seeks to open the center on the 11-acre lot.

The proposed eight-person treatment center would be open to children ages 12 to 17 who suffer from anxiety, depression or other mental health issues. Jerri Anna Phenix, program director for Paradigm, said many of the adolescents who  enter the program are high-achieving students who feel overwhelmed by their obligations.

“They’re incredibly gifted and talented,” Phenix said. “These are kids who have the bar set very high for themselves.”

Paradigm operates five facilities in California, with four in Malibu and one in San Francisco. Phenix said two of those facilities are for adolescents struggling with mental health issues, while the others deal with substance issues. The average length of stay at Paradigm is 30 to 45 days and costs $49,000. Insurance typically covers 70 to 80 percent of that cost, Phenix said.

Paradigm is proposing the treatment center under New York’s Padavan Law, which was created in 1978 to allow group homes for the mentally or developmentally disabled to bypass local zoning laws. The law permits plans for group homes to move forward as long as the area where they are being developed is not oversaturated with similar facilities.

Phenix said the North Castle site was chosen specifically to help meet the high demand of children and families in the New York area.

According to Paradigm, around 30 percent of the young people treated at the company’s facilities in California make the cross-country trip from New York. Paradigm has treated 69 children from New York, including those from Mount Vernon, Bronxville, Rye, Chappaqua, Croton, Eastchester, Irvington, Mount Kisco and Scarsdale.

“These families repeatedly asked us, ‘Why isn’t there a place like this closer to home? Why do we have to go so far away?’” said Richard Bamberger, a spokesman for Paradigm.

But some residents believe the Paradigm application is an attempt to twist the Padavan Law. Because Paradigm seeks to develop a short-term mental health treatment facility, not a long-term home for the disabled, opponents say the application does not qualify under the Padavan Law.

“Our concern is that if you really kind of throw open the door for this kind of model to push through, what will happen is they’ll begin to proliferate and then it becomes a problem,” said Terence K. McLaughlin, a resident who lives near the property.

The Padavan Law has been used in other similar situations in Westchester in recent years. In 2014, California-based Monte Nido & Affiliates transformed an Irvington mansion into a center for those who suffer from eating disorders. The company soon after attempted to open a second facility, first in Irvington and later in Scarsdale, though opposition led to the project’s demise in both communities. The proposal fared better in Briarcliff Manor, and the company plans to open the facility at 223 Pine Road near the Trump National Golf Club.

Monte Nido operates a dozen residential and outpatient eating disorder and exercise addiction treatment programs in California, Oregon, New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

McLaughlin said he believes companies such as Paradigm attempt to stretch the Padavan Law as a way to bypass zoning laws and open for-profit facilities in residential neighborhoods.

“It’s not appropriate for the mental health system,” McLaughlin said of the Paradigm facility. “It’s more appropriate for a privately operated facility.”

Under the law, a municipality has 40 days to file a protest against the proposed center. In January, the North Castle Town Board voted unanimously to object to Paradigm’s application.

“It seems to conflict a little bit with the spirit of the Padavan Law,” North Castle Town Supervisor Michael J. Schiliro said.

As a result of that objection, the state Office of Mental Health held a hearing in March to decide whether the proposed treatment center would be able to move forward. The hearing officer must submit his recommendation to the commissioner of the Office of Mental Health by April 13, though there is no definite time frame for when a final decision will be rendered.

McLaughlin, who is a partner at New York City law firm Morrison Cohen, said that if the Office of Mental Health decides in favor of Paradigm, the town could ask New York state to review that determination in court. The review, known as an Article 78 proceeding, would need “to demonstrate that there was some kind of abuse of discretion” on the part of the Office of Mental Health, he said.

“So whichever party would be seeking the review, like the town, would be facing an uphill battle,” he said.

Aside from the plan’s perceived conflicts with the Padavan Law, the proposed facility faced initial opposition from residents surrounding the property because many believed the center would be used to treat those with substance abuse problems, something Paradigm adamantly denies.

“We are not opening a drug treatment facility,” Bamberger said. “This can easily be confirmed by the fact that we have applied to the state Office of Mental Health for a license. If our objective were to treat teens for chemical dependency issues, we would be applying with a different state agency that provides licenses for drug treatment programs. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply wrong.”

Bamberger said programs serving those with substance use disorders must obtain a license from the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.

Residents and town officials have also cited the facility’s environmental impacts on the area, including increased traffic and its effect on the area’s water supply.

While the fate of the proposed treatment center is still up in the air, Phenix is confident that if the facility opens, it will be a beneficial resource for the surrounding community.

“We want to make sure when we’re able to open our doors, that we’re a place of extreme quality with all pieces in place,” she said.

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