As Peter Young Center drug rehab closes, doctor plans wellness center
The Enterprise — Michael Koff
Empty for now: The Peter Young Center, perched on the hill above the village of Altamont, closed its drug and alcohol rehabilitation program last week, and the 69,000-square-foot building sits empty. A local doctor, John Malfetano, hopes to turn the building, originally built as a seminary, into a health and wellness center for the community.
GUILDERLAND — The Peter Young Center, in Altamont, last week closed the doors to its alcoholism and substance abuse rehabilitation program, but a local doctor hopes to revive the facility as a health, wellness, and community center.
Father Peter Young, who began his work with addicts more than 60 years ago, in Albany, has long been the head of more than 90 residential sites, in-patient treatment centers, and halfway houses in New York State.
He ran the rehab center bearing his name, in the old seminary perched above the village, for 35 years, before being forced to shut it down last week due to lack of funding.
Doctor John Malfetano, a Voorheesville physician who had come out of semi-retirement to do patient intake at the Peter Young Center, wants to keep the building in use, as a wellness center. He plans to open a practice there, and said he is actively seeking other tenants who will embrace his vision.
“People in the community — Altamont and the Hilltowns — don’t necessarily want to leave to receive services,” he said.
He will be running his practice, and focusing on helping low-income patients and those who have been through rehab, but will provide care to anyone; he said he would be accepting Medicaid.
He hopes to find tenants willing to provide other wellness-related services, such as dentists, eye doctors, yoga instructors, psychologists, and possibly even attorneys.
The 69,000-square-foot brick building on Route 156 has plenty of space, he said.
One tenant has already contracted to use some of the space for the next six months. The Altamont Rescue Squad will use the site while it completes renovations on its building on Route 146 just outside the village.
“I am interested in continuing to give everything back to the community that I can,” said Malfetano this week. “We are not dead here; we will be coming back.”
Young is devastated to lose one of his rehab centers, but grateful to Malfetano for trying to put the building to use to help the community.
“We were very dedicated to the people,” said Young. “I am heartbroken about it.”
He called Altamont a “great spot” and said the community is — and always has been — welcoming and accepting.
The closure comes as Young’s organization faces legal scrutiny, due to the alleged misappropriation of grants. The state’s Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, has called for a grand jury to assemble for a trial in Schenectady.
The threat of trial, however, had nothing to do with the closure of the Altamont facility, according to Young.
The center housed 30 clients for 28 days at a time, providing medical evaluations, counseling, and job training.
In the past, other programs were also located in the former seminary, including child care, and other educational classes.
However, said Young, changes to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — HIPAA — made it so no other programs could be held in the same location as Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services programs.
“We couldn’t have ‘mixed populations,’” said Young.
Without other tenants in the building, combined with the cost of caring for the clients, Young said he simply could not afford to sustain the program.
“We were actually losing about $90 per day on every client we had,” he said. “We were looking at a deficit of close to $1 million in one year.”
“The bank said we couldn’t keep going if we weren’t making money,” Young continued. “But we’re not going to make a profit on homeless people.”
Young said all the clients who were at the center at the time it closed have been relocated to other facilities, as have the staff members.
Facing a grand jury?
Although the Altamont center was closed independently of the charges his organization is facing, Young is worried that other facilities all across the state might meet the same fate if the trial by grand jury goes forward.
Nick Benson, the deputy press secretary for Eric Schneiderman, said the attorney general’s office had “no comment” on the case.
It would be a particularly bad time for the organization to collapse, Young said, in light of the current heroin epidemic.
He said he had officiated seven funerals over the past several months, all deaths related to heroin overdose, and all victims from suburban communities.
Young’s attorney, E. Stewart Jones, said the charges stem from a “paperwork mistake.”
He said that two grants were awarded to Young’s organization, each meant for a specific purpose, and, as a result of the paperwork snafu, the grants were switched.
“No one benefited from it,” said Jones. “It was not something that was done intentionally.”
The error was discovered when the organization self-reported an internal theft, which led to a broader investigation.
Jones said Young himself was not targeted in the investigation, because it was an administration mistake, but Young and his organization will be the victims if the charges are upheld.
“He is not the person they are looking at, but he is the whole organization,” said Jones. “He has spent his entire life and all of his money on this.”
Jones said he thought the investigation was disproportionate to the offense.
Young talked about his own understanding of what might have happened with the grants, referencing something called block grant funding, which is awarded to help residents of specific counties or communities.
“You can’t use the funding from one county on someone who doesn’t have that county of origin,” he explained.
He believes that might have had something to do with the mix-up.
“We took in people whose cases were pending,” he said. “We just took whoever came in to any of our facilities.”
Young said his moral guide in life is the Beatitudes, written in the Bible as teachings from Jesus.
“It is a struggle between following the Beatitudes and following state regulations,” he said.
“Our hope is that we can get the attorney general to disband the grand jury,” said Jones.
He said Schneiderman had agreed to meet with him next week.
Young said he is holding out hope.
“You are talking to a devastated man,” he said.