Agency gave Duluth methadone clinic high marks

DULUTH, Minn. (AP) -- Three months before the state recommended a methadone clinic in Duluth be shut down, the agency that accredits the clinic gave it high marks.

The Duluth News Tribune reports Sunday that the nonprofit Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities found during its inspection that the Lake Superior Treatment Center met or exceeded standards for methadone clinics in many areas.

"On balance, Lake Superior Treatment Center has made a dedicated effort to maintain international accreditation and is providing much needed services to persons in the local community in need of treatment for opiate dependence," the agency said in a report, a summary of which was provided last week to the News Tribune.

But investigators with the Minnesota Department of Human Services found 56 standards violations during an August inspection. Among them, the state found the clinic gave investigators false information, failed to check that patients were properly using take-home doses of methadone, and giving counselors 80 clients -- 30 more than allowed by federal law.

In September, the state announced it would revoke the clinic's license; the clinic is open pending an appeal.

Jerry Kerber, Department of Human Services inspector general, reviewed the report from the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.

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"While there are many recommendations for improvements in the report, there are some 'strengths' listed that are completely inconsistent with the findings of the Department of Human Services," Kerber said.

A spokesman for the commission declined to comment to the Duluth News Tribune. The office was closed Sunday and a message left by The Associated Press was not immediately returned.

The Florida-based Colonial Management Group, which owns the clinic, also declined to speak with the newspaper and did not return a message left Sunday by the AP.

Federal law requires that clinics such as the Lake Superior Treatment Center be inspected and accredited to provide methadone. The Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities has accredited 789 methadone clinics and more than 6,500 health care facilities, said agency spokesman Al Whitehurst.

Accredited facilities pay several thousand dollars for a commission inspection and accreditation, said Whitehurst. He declined to say how much the Lake Superior Treatment Center paid.

The commission inspected the treatment center May 17, and reaccredited the clinic for three years. The agency's report said the clinic experienced "almost a complete turnover in personnel, including its leadership."

"Compliance experts were brought in to determine the extent of the problems, and a new program director was hired," the report said. "She has assembled an exceptionally qualified staff for the organization. Clinical concerns for documentation of services, personnel trainings and service access have been formally addressed by management."

But the state's report was highly critical of the new hiring, saying mandatory background checks weren't conducted on 14 staff members, and that the director of the program didn't work full time at the center and didn't "know and understand" Minnesota Rules pertaining to methadone clinics.

The Lake Superior Treatment Center has been accredited by the commission since 2006.