The former county home for the elderly in La Porte could find new life as a drug rehabilitation center, state and local officials said Friday during a tour of the property.
Renovating and repurposing at least a portion of the sprawling 56-room facility would be an important step toward combating heroin addiction in the region, they said. No estimate of how much a renovation might cost was available.
State Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, said he saw promise in the county-owned building, which has been empty for 10 months after the last residents moved to other facilities. Ceiling tiles have fallen in some areas and wall coverings have peeled, but the facility, which was used as a “place of last resort” for the elderly and infirm since it was constructed in 1886, is structurally sound.
Although the building was about as cold inside as out on Friday, its plumbing, heating and electrical systems are up to date and new windows were installed less than 10 years ago. A large red barn on the property was recently renovated by Friends of the Barn using both county and private funding.
Merritt said lawmakers have introduced 19 bills this session as part of a five-year plan to tackle the growing opioid addiction problem in Indiana. He said the first step, which he believes has already been taken by most, is to recognize that addiction is a public health issue more than a law-and-order issue.
“This is an enormous problem,” Merritt said. “We know that 300,000 people in Indiana are struggling with drug addiction, and their problems touch a lot of other people – children and families and communities. And we know that recovery works.”
Merritt’s visit to the home Friday with state Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, and La Porte County Sheriff John Boyd was part of a fact-finding mission by state officials.
State legislators were also scheduled to meet with La Porte County Commissioner Vidya Kora and members of the Swanson Center on Friday to discuss the possible development of a regional opioid treatment center.
Any in-patient or out-patient facility at the county home would be locally operated, Merritt said, and state or federal grants would be available. Perhaps a tougher issue would be finding enough providers, such as physicians and counselors, to address the number of people who need help.
Bohacek said the location of the county home on Ind. 2 across from the fairgrounds was ideal considering it’s along a bus route that also serves Michigan City and Westville. He agreed that treatment was key to breaking the scourge of addiction.
“We can’t prosecute our way out of this problem,” he said.
Boyd said the state as a whole needs to ramp up its efforts, and fast. The nearest full-scale drug rehabilitation center is in Elkhart, he said, and the wait time to be admitted can be up to three months. Completion of a five-year state plan will come too late for some.
“At the rate we’re going, no, it isn’t soon enough,” he said.
County officials have been looking for a buyer for the former county home and have discussed working with the state to use this facility as a nursing home for veterans.
County Commissioner Rich Mrozinski said he was glad to see interest in the building but hopes something develops quickly.
“I really didn’t want it to sit empty another winter,” he said.