Baltimore’s Tuerk House expands, adapts to treat those with drug, alcohol addictions

Published on: January 06, 2023 3:48 PM EST|Updated on: January 06, 2023 4:04 PM EST

Renovated, expanded Tuerk House to help restore people struggling with addiction, mental illness
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Operators of Tuerk House, one of Baltimore’s oldest drug and alcohol treatment centers, has been adding services over the years designed to help people get off destructive substances and back into productive lives.

On Friday, the facility in West Baltimore unveiled a new kitchen, gym and medical center that includes a pharmacy as part of a multiyear, $10.2 million expansion program. That’s in addition to 18 more beds for clients seeking detoxification treatment. The center can now admit 60, plus treat others on an outpatient basis.

“Oftentimes humans fall down and need help getting back up,” said Ivan Bates, who was recently sworn in as Baltimore state’s attorney, during an opening ceremony. “That’s what Tuerk House is about.”

Bates noted his commitment to sending violent offenders to prison, and also said he would reverse his predecessor’s decision not to prosecute certain “petty crimes.” But Bates said often people with substance use disorders who break the law benefit more when they are kept outside of the justice system. Steering them to treatment and assistance could make them “productive members of society.”

The latest expansion phase for the nonprofit Tuerk House, its third, is the last major addition of client inpatient beds. The next and last phase will include more amenities that can be used by the community, including an outdoor garden. The facility already offers urgent, and some routine, medical care for neighbors.

Tuerk House also operates a neighboring crisis stabilization center on behalf of the Baltimore Department of Health that provides acute care for intoxication or overdoses. It’s designed to keep people out of the emergency room or jail, and officials direct those who use the center to the longer-term services next door.

“Substance use disorders are treatable,” said Bernard Gyebi-Foster, Tuerk House executive director, in comments at the opening ceremony that included community leaders, donors and supporters. “We began as an alcohol addiction facility, but now we offer a full range of services, including for the first time education in nutrition and food choice.”

Tuerk House provides services to about 2,000 people a year, often those who are experiencing homelessness and poverty. The majority are opioid dependent. Most are uninsured or enrolled in Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for low-income residents.

The expansion comes at a time of great need in the city and state. Officials say most street drugs include the highly potent synthetic opioid fentanyl, which has been the main driver in a yearslong rise in fatal overdoses.

Overdoses spiked during the coronavirus pandemic, with deaths in the state jumping 17.7% to 2,799 in 2020 from the year before, according to data from the Maryland Department of Health, which, along with several other foundations and individual donors, provided funding for the Tuerk House expansion.

Overdoses rose far more slowly in 2021 and decreased by nearly 13% in the year ending in August 2022, the latest data available. Baltimore’s rate dropped almost 14% in the same time period, to 960 fatal overdoses.

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The numbers remain historically high, however, even as opioid-related intoxication deaths dropped in the city and state. Data shows deaths related to cocaine, often mixed with fentanyl, have been on the rise.

Altogether, an average of more than a half-dozen people continue to die every day in Maryland of an overdose.

James Wooding said he decided a decade ago he would not be among the statistics.

“I told my wife I was going to get myself together, and she said she was coming with me to make sure I got there,” he said of his trip to Tuerk House, about six blocks from where the couple were living.

Wooding remains in recovery, and he and his wife now live in Bolton Hill. Wooding works on the maintenance staff for Tuerk House, which also employs many other people in recovery. Wooding says he often spends time with clients “because I can relate to them.”

He believes clients will appreciate the extra services, from lessons in nutrition to the treadmills, which he says “let people be thoughtful while they are building back their bodies” that the abuse of drugs and alcohol tore down.

Wooding said Tuerk House’s approach, which also includes transitional housing and job training, will ensure the next generation can follow in his path.

“Tuerk House saved my life,” he said. “They gave me directions, I followed them, and I’m here today.”