Proposal for Ga. first responder treatment center faces heavy opposition from residents

The proposal for the treatment center is under consideration at Tuesday's city commission meeting after previous proposals were denied twice


Susan McCord
The Augusta Chronicle, Ga.

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Valor Station, a recovery center for first responders with addiction, PTSD or more, goes for consideration by an Augusta Commission committee Tuesday.

With continued opposition from neighbors in the Green Meadows subdivision, the plan initiated by the Hale Foundation has failed to secure a needed rezoning from the commission at least twice.

The Hale Foundation is seeking to establish a treatment center for first responders in Augusta, Georgia, but the proposal has faced heavy opposition from residents living near the proposed site for the center. (Photo/The Hale Foundation Facebook)
The Hale Foundation is seeking to establish a treatment center for first responders in Augusta, Georgia, but the proposal has faced heavy opposition from residents living near the proposed site for the center. (Photo/The Hale Foundation Facebook)

The new plan is distinct from Hale's original one, said supporter Patrick Cullinan, a longtime firefighter, emergency medical technician and sheriff's deputy who beat his addiction and learned to cope with PTSD.

"This is a whole new project, a whole new zoning request," he said.

First responders have specific needs, Cullinan said. In his recovery program, Cullinan said, he was reluctant to share personal stories about the horrors he's seen on the job with fellow addicts who might not understand or need to be exposed to them.

Cullinan was having suicidal thoughts and once attempted it while battling alcohol addiction as a police officer. Gaining sobriety in 2003 made him a much better officer when he arrived at a fatal shooting in Fox Trace in 2004, he said.

"I was so glad I got help and I was sober because that morning I was able to react and perform my best, and as a result two lives were saved," he said.

Cullinan said he's passionate about "changing the culture" in which public safety workers are expected to "suck it up and move on" rather than seek treatment.

In the neighborhood, where many lawns sport signs in opposition, an earlier champion for the effort, Tracie Roe, died in August. New leader Deborah Bunch is fighting cancer but has said she'll oppose the effort "until my dying breath."

Bunch couldn't be reached Monday, but state Sen. Harold Jones, who grew up in the neighborhood, said the neighbors haven't changed their minds.

"A lot of it is just the fact they want the zoning to remain as it is," the Democrat said. "It's a major step for them to change the zoning."

Cullinan said the new special zoning exception for the facility will specify it is for first responders only.

Hale runs a tight ship at its downtown men's treatment center. While those who relapse are evicted, most are committed to recovery, Cullinan said.

"The majority of these people are at the end of their rope. They are wanting help," he said.

Those who do relapse don't want to remain on the premises.

"There's an aura of sobriety and the last place they want to be is around that," he said.

A state resolution sponsored by state Rep. Jodi Lott, R-Evans, will enable the property to change its entrance from Green Meadows to the Augusta Tech campus, which sits on the other side of it, he said.

The center will employ a medical director, mental health professionals and first-responder peers. The responders need medical care because withdrawing from their addictions can have serious side effects, including death, Cullinan said.

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©2020 The Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Ga.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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