Could Keep Local Control or Join National Chain : Venice Drug Center to Vote on Transfer

Times Staff Writer

The future of a financially troubled drug abuse center on Venice’s Ocean Front Walk may be determined this week, when the board of directors votes on options to transfer the agency to a national chain or maintain local control.

The board of Tuum Est, a nonprofit drug center that has been located at 503 Ocean Front Walk for more than a decade, is scheduled to make a decision Thursday. Chairman Mark Winogrond said several proposals will be considered, including a takeover offer by the national Phoenix House chain.

“There are some people committed in one direction and some in another,” Winogrond said. “I can’t tell what will happen. But it is safe to say that the board has not made up its mind regarding a final determination.”

Bill McNally, the head of a group called the Ad Hoc Committee to Save Tuum Est, said he will ask the board to delay its decision. McNally, who is working to maintain local control of Tuum Est, said his group needs more time to raise money and recruit board members. He said the effort is gaining momentum.


“It’s not a question of whether Tuum Est can be saved,” said McNally, a volunteer who helped establish the agency. “It’s a question of having more time, because the resources are coming in. People who want to help.”

Winogrond said it is doubtful the board will delay its decision in order to give McNally more time to generate support. But he said it may decide that the staff should be allowed to investigate other ways to keep the agency afloat.

Two Local Firms

Winogrond said two local firms have offered to associate themselves with Tuum Est, Centinela Hospital Medical Center and the Century City Medical Group. The staff is also examining ways to accept patients with insurance.


Tuum Est, which roughly translates from Latin as “it’s up to you,” receives all of its funding from the county and private donors. It can treat up to 50 patients at a time and is widely regarded as one of the county’s toughest and most successful drug abuse centers. Residents there submit to a rugged two-year treatment program, and the center claims a 40% success rate.

The program has been deeply in debt since 1984, when its 69-year-old red brick headquarters underwent more than $1 million in earthquake safety and renovation work. In March, the board confirmed that the center, which has an annual budget of about $1.5 million, was losing about $15,000 a month.

Some Favor Transfer

People close to the agency say that several board members favor transferring the center to Phoenix House, a $14-million-a-year drug treatment program with locations in Santa Ana, San Diego and the New York City area.


Winogrond said Phoenix House representatives will present a formal proposal to the board on Thursday. But he said the board will also hear other offers. Dennis Dow, the center’s director, said Phoenix House is the only group seeking to assume control of the program. All of the other proposals being considered by the board would keep Tuum Est in local hands, he added.

“There is no intention to transfer to another agency other than Phoenix House,” Dow said. “The main factors that would enable (Tuum Est) to stay local are simple. The board would choose to elect new board members and would enable us to raise some capital to begin to resupply our cash reserves.”

There are nine members on the Tuum Est board. McNally said his organization would like to double that number. He said that about 10 people have offered to serve on the board and act as fund-raisers. At the same time, McNally said the Ad Hoc Committee to Save Tuum Est is nowhere near raising the $50,000 needed to keep the agency afloat for another three months.