May 22, 2018

GUEST COLUMN: Maple Leaf Farm would be a good neighbor

By Bill Young

The Maple Leaf Farm proposal to open a substance abuse treatment program at the site of the former Pine Ridge School makes sense for many reasons. For Williston, it safeguards the open space that is an important part of town planning, as well as contributing a significant number of well-paying jobs with good benefits while renovating what is presently a large, deteriorating facility.

For men and women struggling with addiction and for all those whose lives or quality of life are affected by it, the program offers an opportunity to meet a significant need. Last year, Maple Leaf Farm had to turn away about 700 people asking for treatment due to lack of space. Wait lists regularly number well over 100 people per day. Nothing good happens when someone dependent on alcohol or other drugs takes the step of asking for help and can’t get it in a timely way. The proposed program will have a tremendous impact on unmet need. And since treatment does work, there will be a significant impact on the lives of those involved, on our Vermont communities and businesses and on local and state budgets.

Maple Leaf Farms operates one of the nation’s oldest such programs in Underhill and has helped an estimated 28,000 Vermonters to find recovery from addiction since its beginnings in 1956. The program provides an outstanding medical detoxification service and a well-respected residential treatment program. An intensive outpatient program and an after care group are offered in Burlington.

The proposal would provide improved services at the Williston site. We do not intend nor propose a medication assisted therapy program, such as is presently proposed in South Burlington. There have been some public comments to the effect that we do not have security. These are not accurate. Services, supervision and security will be provided, as they are in Underhill, by a well-trained and supported staff. We have found that hiring our own staff to provide safety and supervision is more effective than contracting for a “security service” that will be staffed by people who are not specifically trained in our area of work.

For those worried about addicts in treatment, it is a fact that no one has ever been convicted of a crime while in treatment at Maple Leaf Farm. While we all should be concerned about people around us who are actively abusing alcohol and other drugs, people in our program are there to stop. They generally hate the drugs that are ruining their lives and won’t tolerate such behavior in treatment. The program itself will be very well-supervised and is a rigorous, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week program.  Average length of stay is about 20 days, with about three to four patients arriving and departing each day. Patients either fully participate in and follow reasonable rules, or are asked to leave and come back when they are ready.

The admissions process involves careful consideration of all aspects of a person’s life, not just substance use. Those who are viewed as either unable to participate fully or have histories that preclude community-based treatment such as anger control or significant health problems more suited to hospital care are not admitted.

Traffic in and out of the program will be less during peak traffic hours than was the case with the Pine Ridge School. Most patients are brought to the program by family or friends. We provide transportation to public means of travel for those who need it. And outside activities such as medical appointments or AA meetings have group transportation provided, which also reduces individual trips. The campus will be closed to patient visitors without appointment or participation in a patient’s program.

Pine Ridge can provide up to 96 patient beds. Comments about plans to possibly expand to 137 beds at Pine Ridge are not accurate. That number refers to the possibility that we might reopen the 41-bed Underhill site in the future. It has nothing to do with the Williston campus.

We intend to operate a program in Williston that is a contributing member of the community and a good neighbor, as we do now. And every employee’s job description reflects that goal. We encourage any Williston resident or group who would like more information to participate in the planning process underway with the town. And I am willing to speak personally with any person or group who would like to talk in more detail about the proposed program. I can be reached at 899-2911, Ext. 206 or by email at

Bill Young is the executive director of Maple Leaf Farm.


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