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Northern Lakes Clinic: Methadone treatment to close in Bemidji

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Following a March 3 decision by the Beltrami County Board to deny renewal of the host county contract, Northern Lakes Clinic will close Friday.

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Dr. Lois Schlutter, a Twin Cities doctor who opened the Bemidji clinic in May 2007 to treat people addicted to opiates with a methadone maintenance program, said qualified buyers were interested in purchasing the clinic, but they needed a letter of need from the County Board.

County Board Chairman Jim Lucachick said the board members had voted unanimously in March not to renew the contract. They also discussed the request for a letter of need Tuesday and agreed not to produce such a document. He said they opted not to renew the host county contract so they would not have to investigate any issues in relation to the clinic.

At the March meeting, Lucachick said commissioners had met with the owner and shared general concerns about "a wide range of topics, including the clinic's history and impact on the community, license violations cited in the Minnesota Department of Human Services Correction Order from August 2008, continuing concerns by County Health and Human Services staff regarding communication and information sharing, and transition planning for clinic clients."

As of the March meeting, the clinic served 180 people.

Schlutter challenged the county's unwillingness to provide a letter of need because Beltrami County is busing people to clinics in southern Minnesota.

"Obviously there is a need if they're busing people 200 miles," Schlutter said. "I'm very troubled with the direction of this."

She said with the closing of the clinic Friday, another such service will not be able to start up easily because of the complicated and lengthy licensing process.

Lucachick said because of confidentiality issues, he could not specifically say why the County Board decided against renewing the host county contract.

One tragedy connected with the Northern Lakes Clinic is the April 26, 2008, death of Christopher Anderson from methadone overdose while staying with a client of the clinic.

Lillie Rae Kise, 29, of Bemidji, pleaded guilty to an amended charge of serious felony second-degree manslaughter - culpable negligence creating unreasonable risk in relation to Anderson's death. The complaint states that in Kise's apartment where Anderson was found, the deputies found two dosage bottles of methadone. One was in the name of Kise, with a label indicated that it was dispensed on April 25, 2008, and was to be taken on April 27, 2008. The other dosage bottle was in the name of another individual, dispensed on April 25, to be taken on April 27.

Kise and the recipient of the other methadone dose were patients at a Bemidji clinic, according to the criminal complaint.

"It's terribly sad any time there is a death," Schlutter said.

She said she opened the Northern Lakes Clinic in Bemidji because of the high rate of drug abuse and consequent health and mortality risks in the area. Methadone treatment is designed to prevent use of illegal drugs has a success rate at the end of one year of 83 percent, as opposed to 5 percent success at the end of one year for abstinence, Schlutter said.

Schlutter also addressed the issue of dispensing gift reward cards to clients who bring other people with addictions into the clinic to start treatment.

"That's perfectly on the up-and-up," she said. "It's approved by SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). It's ethical."

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