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HUDSON FALLS — Following a volatile public outcry against a possible syringe exchange program in Hudson Falls, the Alliance for Positive Health has decided to withdraw its application from the state Department of Health for a proposed Main Street location.

Additionally, the health care provider will move its care management services out of the village, said Bill Faragon, executive director, on Wednesday morning.

“Our clients already experience stigma,” Faragon said. “And we feel they would not be safe in this location. We need to make sure our clients have a safe space to go.”

The Alliance has been serving Warren and Washington counties for 25 years and has operated a care management facility for people with HIV and chronic illnesses on LaCrosse Street in Hudson Falls for 10 years.

According to Faragon, his organization generally works with Medicaid populations and helps them with care needs, such as getting transportation to medical appointments or helping them access related services.

“We stabilize and make them healthy and keep them out of the emergency room,” he said, adding that the Alliance had hoped to bring additional services such as nutritional counseling and LGBTQ services to the proposed Main Street location.

“There was so much backlash, we never got to chance to tell our case,” said Faragon, referring to an out-of-control community meeting about the syringe exchange last Thursday night.

“I think it is a loss for the community,” said Ron Johnson, who has lived in Hudson Falls for 60 years. “The community was misguided even by the Village Board, who painted a not realistic picture of how things would work, and we never got to hear that. Now we still have the same old problems and nobody is here to help.”

Johnson continued: “What happened is indicative of all the people who did not understand what they were doing here.”

Amanda West, executive director of the Council for Prevention, said the Alliance leaving the Hudson Falls community is “unfortunate.” Although Katherine Chambers of the Council said at last week’s meeting that the organization had rescinded its letter of support for the syringe exchange program because of the location, West said the Council may reconsider supporting a new location.

“The Council supports the Alliance and the SEP (syringe exchange program) concept,” said West. “Hopefully in the future we can help them with an appropriate location where everyone understands its value and the process is transparent. We look forward to working with the Alliance in the future.”

Johnson was one of nearly 170 people who attended a community informational meeting, called by Hudson Falls Deputy Mayor Bob Cook, last Thursday.

During the meeting, Johnson tried to talk to the already angry crowd about how this might be an opportunity for the community.

Nonetheless, when Faragon and others representing the Alliance tried to explain their intentions for the 124 Main St. location, including expanded health care services, several in the crowd shouted them down with chants of “liar” and “lies.”

Village Attorney Bill Nikas said on Wednesday by email that the reason they were shouting "lies" and "liar" was the village “had discovered they (Alliance) had completely ignored the legal requirements necessary to open such a program.”

“The individuals who were yelling "lies" at the meeting knew this background information and were unable to sit quietly and listen to Alliance representations known to be false,” Nikas said.

When asked what rules the Alliance violated, Nikas said the Alliance did not develop a community advisory board, and he added that safety concerns were a “bogus reason.”

“If they had implemented the state-required community advisory board before they applied to DOH for approval, they would have started the application process in an open and transparent manner with no fanfare,” Nikas said. “Instead, they misrepresented to DOH that they had complied with this pre-approval requirement when they had not done so.”

Nonetheless, in a letter to the state Department of Health regarding syringe exchange in Hudson Falls, Faragon did not appear to mislead health officials and did not say his organization had already implemented the community advisory board.

“We wanted to expand to that location for care management and we wanted to bring programs we have at our other locations to Hudson Falls,” said Faragon on Wednesday morning. “We have nutrition program to help individuals stay healthy and teach them how to shop. And we have a whole range of LBGTQ services we also wanted to bring.”

Regarding syringe exchange, Faragon said that once Alliance officials had its other services moved into the new location, they wanted to talk to the community about the syringe exchange.

“We were in the very beginning stages of this and we were open and willing to listen to other options,” he said. “We really did not expect this; when we started syringe exchange in Plattsburgh, we did not experience the level of pushback,” Faragon said, adding he understands this is a controversial topic. “And we were invited to Ticonderoga.”

When first alerting the community to the Alliance’s plans, Cook, the deputy mayor, originally published a notice about the meeting online: “The Alliance now wants to expand its operations to include a new program to collect dirty needles from drug users (that’s right … heroin users!) in exchange for clean needles. Drug users from Warren and Washington County would be invited to come to Hudson Falls and bring their dirty needles to this site.”

Nonetheless, on Wednesday, after being informed of the Alliance’s decision to pull out of Hudson Falls, Cook's view of “heroin users” changed from his earlier online posting.

“The pushback from the Hudson Falls community to a syringe exchange had nothing to do with disapproval of the exchange. Local leaders recognize the value of such programs. Our community would have supported a syringe exchange,” Cook said in an email Wednesday afternoon. “The pushback had everything to do with the Alliance for Positive Health’s lack of transparency and the inappropriateness of their desired location, which put our children at risk.”

Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy said at last week’s meeting, and again on Wednesday by email, that the Alliance was “using deceptive practices.”

“It's unfortunate that the Alliance still doesn't understand why people were upset with the proposed location, as well as the deceptive manner in which it was selected,” Murphy said. “They couldn't have picked a worse location and did so with no input from the community or elected officials.”

But Alliance outside counsel Robert Stout Jr. disagrees.

“The notion expressed at the meeting by some that the Alliance sought to deceive the public and government is false,” Stout said on Wednesday afternoon. “And they are well aware that an SEP can’t operate without widespread public support."

Faragon said the Alliance is still committed to providing services to the region, but it is regrouping and searching for a new location to offer the expanded services they had planned for 124 Main St.

“We have to start from the beginning, so it may take six to nine months,” he said.

The LaCrosse Street care management services will remain in Hudson Falls until another location is secured.

Kathleen Phalen-Tomaselli is a features writer at The Post-Star. She can be reached at kphalen-tomaselli@poststar.com for comments or story ideas. 

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