A Stockton doctor has quietly opened Lodi's first methadone clinic in Lodi Memorial Hospital's Urgent Care office, raising concerns due to the proximity to a local school.
Dr. Ernest Vasti opened the clinic on Monday at 1235 W. Vine St. after becoming licensed to provide specialized care for former heroin addicts. Methadone is believed to be less addictive and used as a replacement for heroin and other opiates.
The new clinic is not affiliated with the hospital, as Vasti is leasing space within the Urgent Care building, according to Debbe Mareno, the hospital's chief nursing officer.
That building is directly across the intersection from Lodi Middle School.
The clinic was not required to check with the school district before selecting a location.
"They do not have to have our permission, but it certainly does raise concerns," Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer said.
Mareno believes there was no reason to notify neighbors, including the school district.
"When we put in clinics, we don't do any outreach because it's already a medical space," she said. "It's no different than having an emergency room nearby."
City spokesman Jeff Hood said Lodi officials had not heard about the new clinic, but there would likely be no additional city requirements.
"It's a medical use in a medical facility," he said. "So at first glance, there is no problem."
Students walking to school each morning often pass by Urgent Care. Inviting recovering addicts to the area for treatment could undermine the school's efforts to curtail drug and alcohol use, Nichols-Washer said.
"It seems to me it's bad business, and it goes against what we're trying to do to keep kids safe. It just baffles my mind that we are even talking about this," she said.
Principal Scott McGregor said no parents have called the school yet with concerns, but had no further comment.
Vasti could not be reached for comment. A Lodi police representative was unable to comment on the clinic's location or whether they feel it poses any public safety concerns.
Parents and neighbors have mixed feelings about the new clinic.
Joyce Dickerhoff lives a block away from the clinic on Ham Lane and said she is not concerned.
"We might change our minds later, but we have to give them a try," she said.
Dickerhoff said her neighborhood is usually busy, even in the early morning, because people are out walking their dogs, so that helps prevents crime.
"I have no problems or concerns. This is a pretty good street," Dickerhoff said. "Because it's so busy it deters anybody from shenanigans."
Terry Krantz and her family live near Lodi Middle School and the new clinic. One of her children attends seventh grade at the school, and she is worried the clinic will draw the wrong kind of people to the area, she said.
"Having it so close to a school makes things a little too accessible," she said. "I only hope people there truly want to get clean and get help, but that's not always the case. Those are the ones I have concerns about selling to kids."
But another parent isn't worried.
"I have no particular concerns about that," said Lenora Swearingen, parent of an eighth-grade student.
Vasti has operated 5th Street Medical Clinic in Stockton since 2005 and Healthy Connections, also in Stockton, since 2004, state records show.
He opened the Lodi clinic because many of his patients have had to travel to Stockton to receive care, according to Mareno.
"These are people who have medical concerns. They are Lodi patrons," she said.
Methadone maintenance treatment is typically provided in an outpatient treatment program setting with four common features: a dispensing unit, counseling offices, examining rooms and an administrative area, according to health officials.
In general, the program involves dispensing methadone daily not only to patients previously addicted to opiates, but also those hooked on more common painkillers such as Vicodin and Oxycotin, according to Mareno.
The California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs regulates and licenses all narcotic treatment programs. The department does annual inspections to ensure compliance with state, federal and locals laws.
The Lodi clinic operates on limited hours, closing before Urgent Care opens each morning.
On weekdays, the clinic is open from 5 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. The hours are 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on weekends.
According to the website of the Medical Board of California, Vasti is a 1983 graduate of the Medical College of Wisconsin. He is board certified in family practice medicine, and there are no public records of disciplinary action available.