When the Alcohol Abuse Counseling Center closed recently, Washington lost its largest private treatment center for alcoholics.
The center, established five years ago as a research unit of the Washington Hospital Center, was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Ahcoholism (NIAAA), which did not renew the grant this year.
The counseling unit grew from a research and referral service into an organization that offered counseling to as many as 800 outpatients a week at the peak of its activity in late 1975.
Paul Gardner, deputy associate director for public affairs at NIAAA, said the grant was not renewed because the center's funding proposal "did not compete well" with other programs from around the country that applied for funds. The Washington center's proposal did not clearly outline how the staff planned to improve or expand services, he said.
"The staff we had was second to none in the country," said Dr. Peter Patrick, acting director of the center. "The people who will suffer (from the closing) will be the people in the community who need the services."
The cost for basic services at the center was $15 a week, putting treatment within reach of most working people, said Mary Kidd, executive director of the Washington Area Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
"There is nothing comparable in the private sector to the Washington Hospital Center's services. Right now there are about two or three poverty programs for alcoholics and one little rehabilitation program which can take 25 people," Kidd said.
Patrick and KIdd said there is a great need for treatment centers, particularly for low-income patients, and pointed out that only Alaska has a higher rate of alcohol consumption than the District. There are an estimated 129,000 alcoholics in the District, according to Kidd.
The center's problems were not unusual for small organizations that receive large founding grants, said Patrick.
"The original funding is too great and they end up with a big program that's too hard to sustain," he said.
In 1972 NIAAA gave the center more than $622,000. That amount decreased until 1976 when NIAAA provided $150,000, a fourth of the center's operating budget.
Patrick said the center was losing money when it closed and that the number of patients receiving counseling had dropped off as other hospitals and agencies set up their own treatment programs; thus the center's income decreased and even fewer patients could be accepted, said Patrick.
He said he agrees with Gardner that the funding proposal was "poorly written." He was not involved in writing the proposal, he said.
Patrick also said he believes the hospital center's board of trustees is partly to blame for the closing. He said the board waited until after it knew the grant had not been renewed before considering ways to keep the counseling unit open.
Action was postponed because the board hoped to obtain alternative funding or find alcohol counseling center, said Samuel Scrivener Jr., president of the hospital center board. Scrivener said a committee formed to study the counseling unit's problems recommemded closing the center because keeping it open would require taking funds from another hospital project or raising hospital fees.
The board still is considering contracting with another agency or transferrign services to another unit in the hospital, he said.
Frances Schrann, a nurse at the hospital's in-patient alcohol treatment unit, said doctors from the hospital center's psychiatry departmetn are working on plans to establish an outpatient alcoholism center on hospital grounds. The hospital also has 44 beds for alcoholic patients.
The patients who were receiving treatment at the center when it closed will continue to get counseling.
"By and large, they will stay in care with the person they have been in theray with," Patrick said.
Some of the center's counselors will go into private pratice while others expect to join other clinics, he said. They will continue to counsel theit patients from the hospital center in their new positions, he added.
Five couselors, including the acting director, worked at the center when it closed.