Doctor speaks out on Exeter Twp. rehab center plan

By Jennifer L. Henn - For Times Leader
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EXETER TWP. — If Dr. Robert Dompkosky gets his way — and he’s confident he will — Sutton Creek Center for Change will be a private, family owned 50-bed residential addiction treatment center nestled in the woods, offering clients top-notch counseling and care in an idyllic country setting.

And maybe it’ll help make a dent in the region’s ongoing drug abuse crisis.

The doctor spoke out for the first time Thursday, sharing details of his plans in hopes of allaying the fears gripping nearby residents in Exeter Township. Neighbors there have been increasingly vocal in their opposition since word got out about the proposal, railing against the plan at Monday’s township supervisors’ meeting, circulating petitions against it and organizing a campaign on social media.

“I know people are afraid of things they don’t understand. That’s natural,” Dompkosky, an emergency room physician at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital and Tyler Memorial Hospital in Tunkhannock, said. “What I hope is that they keep an open mind and give us a chance. I think they will be pleasantly surprised.”

Sutton Creek Center for Change will work with local hospitals and drug and alcohol counselors to admit patients dedicated to battling their addictions and turning their lives around, he said. Candidates for admission would be interviewed before being accepted to ensure their commitment to rehabilitation and likelihood of success.

“We’re talking about a private facility for people who want to get better,” he said. “I don’t want to contaminate people who are serious about rehabilitation with individuals who aren’t. We’re not going to take just anybody.”

While at the center, residents will be confined to the building at all times unless the facility has an outdoor event or there is some other specific reason to be outside, Dompkosky said. They will be attending mandatory classes and counseling between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. And if a resident wants to leave, the center will arrange transportation.

“There will be no time or ability to walk freely on the campus or to just walk away,” he said.

In terms of staff, Dompkosky said the center will be manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week by a project director, multiple supervisors and many nurses and counselors. Each of those employees will have to meet state requirements regarding training, licenses and years of experience.

One of the issues township residents have raised as evidence the center wouldn’t be a good fit for the community is the rural neighborhood’s lack of infrastructure. It has all-volunteer fire and ambulance services and a police department that relies on the local state police barracks to cover some overnight hours.

As a for-profit treatment center, Sutton Creek will be taxable, which could actually benefit the township’s coffers and boost infrastructure, Dompkosky pointed out.

“And when we make a profit we will share that by donating to the fire and ambulance companies,” he added. “There will be some significant advantages to the community.”

Dompkosky said he settled on the location — the former Sarah J. Dymond Elementary School — after a nine-month search for a space that could accommodate his plans for a rehabilitation center in a “serene setting.” The building needs minimal work and the price range “certainly was attractive,” he said.

He bought the 7.7-acre property, including the 35,000-square-foot building, from the Wyoming Area School Board for $105,000 in May.

In addition to worried neighbors, Dompkosky has to deal with township officials who he’s at odds with over the zoning approval he needs to proceed. The doctor and his lawyer claimed a default victory this week, saying the township Zoning Hearing Board missed a deadline to hold a public hearing on the case. As a result, they’re arguing the approval is automatic.

Township officials disagree and plan to hold the hearing June 25.

Dompkosky and his lawyer, Bruce J. Phillips of Plains Township, plan to attend the zoning hearing June 25, but are adamant they don’t have to.

While Dompkosky said he is the sole owner of the property at this point, three family members are listed as parties on the limited liability corporation paperwork he filed in December to create Sutton Creek Center for Change. They are his sister, Judy Lee of Mountain Top, his brother, David Dompkosky of Wyoming, and David’s father-in-law, Harry Salavantis of Shavertown. Salavantis is the father of Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis, Dompkosky confirmed.

All three are interested in getting involved, the doctor said, but none have made any financial investments yet.

Dompkosky owns and operates North Penn Manor in Wilkes-Barre, an 85-bed personal care home, with some of the same family members interested in participating with Sutton Creek. He is also consulting on another addiction treatment center proposed on North River Street in Wilkes-Barre.

As an emergency room doctor, Dompkosky has experienced first hand the tragedy of drug and alcohol addiction. The crisis, he said, is only getting worse.

“It’s at least one death a month, at least, and then there are so many who come in just on the verge of death,” he said. “I’m just trying to help put a dent in it.”

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By Jennifer L. Henn

For Times Leader