Fatal overdoses at Pa. halfway house brings calls for investigation

Several state lawmakers were surprised and disturbed to learn of the eight overdose deaths that have occurred at the facility since Jan. 1, 2016

By Ford Turner
Reading Eagle, Pa.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The chairman of the state House Human Services Committee on Monday called for an investigation into a string of fatal drug overdoses among ADAPPT halfway house residents brought to light in a series of Reading Eagle articles.

Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, a Bucks County Republican, was among several state lawmakers of both parties who were surprised and disturbed to learn of the eight overdose deaths since Jan. 1, 2016, among residents of the state-funded ADAPPT facility near Fourth and Walnut streets in Reading.

"This is really troubling to have this many deaths in a short period of time," DiGirolamo said. "I would certainly hope Secretary (John) Wetzel at the Department of Corrections is going to do some kind of investigative study."

The department along with the Board of Probation and Parole supervise halfway houses around the state.

The Eagle series, published Sunday and Monday, found that ADAPPT likely had the worst record of fatal overdoses among the department's 55 community corrections facilities. It focused on unanswered questions raised by parents of those who died.

In response to the newspaper stories, the Department of Corrections issued a statement Monday that said the people who live at ADAPPT represent a microcosm of the larger drug crisis affecting communities across the country. The safety of people at ADAPPT and other Corrections-supervised centers is a top priority, according to the department.

Rep. Mark M. Gillen, a Robeson Township Republican, sent copies of the Eagle articles to all members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees. He went to ADAPPT himself Monday afternoon to assess the facility and area.

"When we see substantive numbers of individuals dying in and around facilities that have a state nexus, it is obvious to conclude there needs to be more oversight," Gillen said.

ADAPPT is operated by GEO Group, a for-profit company based in Florida, under a contract with the Department of Corrections. That contract - covering many facilities in Pennsylvania, not just ADAPPT - led to state payments of more than $71 million during a recent three-year period.

"They need to prove to us that they can actually do the job," Rep. Mark Rozzi, a Muhlenberg Township Democrat, said of the company. "Maybe their contract needs to be suspended."

In an email Monday, a spokeswoman for GEO Group, Monica Hook, said it would not comment on the articles.

Those who died included Matthew Kleedorfer, who grew up in the Nazareth area in Northampton County and became addicted to opioid drugs after hurting his back while working on his porch.

He became a heroin addict, spent time in prison and arrived at ADAPPT last fall. He was found motionless and unresponsive in his bunk there on Nov. 19, 2016.

He was pronounced dead, the victim of a heroin overdose. His parents, Donna and William Kleedorfer of Bushkill Township, Northampton County, raised questions about ADAPPT security.

William Kleedorfer said there was a cover-up involving a security lapse before his son's death.

Mother wants action

Donna Kleedorfer said she would welcome an investigation.

"If nothing else, that is what I truly hoped would come out of this. More regulation. More oversight," she said. "I don't feel it's realistic, what they are doing there."

Rep. Marcia Hahn, a Northampton County Republican whose district includes the Kleedorfer's home, called the situation tragic.

She said she would work with DiGirolamo and Gillen, if necessary, to get more answers on how the string of overdose deaths occurred under the current system.

The Eagle learned through a Right-to-Know request that the Department of Corrections did not maintain formal records of fatal overdoses before Jan. 1 of this year. Sen. Judy Schwank, a Ruscombmanor Township Democrat whose district includes ADAPPT, said she wants to ask the Department of Corrections officials why those records were not kept.

"The opioid epidemic isn't new," she said.

Schwank plans to tour ADAPPT on Friday. The death rate there, she said, is a huge concern, but she also is concerned about the interplay between ADAPPT residents and the community.

ADAPPT Director Michael Critchosin and George Little, head of the Department of Corrections' bureau of community corrections, said some responsibility for drug use at ADAPPT must go to the surrounding neighborhood. They described it as drug-riddled.

Those assertions were rejected by Reading Mayor Wally Scott and Deputy Police Chief James Marasco.

About the neighborhood

Gillen also said he walked around a portion of the ADAPPT neighborhood Monday. He said he knew it well and did not think its drug problems were any more severe than the rest of the city's.

He noted that there was a barber shop, a law firm, a coffee shop, and "mom-and-pop" businesses on Fifth Street, a very short walk from ADAPPT.

"My friends who are in this neighborhood have a very different take," he said.

On Monday, Rep. Barry Jozwiak, a Bern Township Republican and former Berks County sheriff, speculated the overdose deaths were due to the facility being run in a lackadaisical fashion.

"There shouldn't be any," he said. "It's totally unacceptable."

©2017 the Reading Eagle (Reading, Pa.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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