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Drug Center Board Approves Takeover by National Chain

Times Staff Writer

The Ad Hoc Committee to Save Tuum Est didn’t.

The group’s effort to maintain local control of the financially troubled Venice drug center at 503 Ocean Front Walk ended in failure last week when a national organization called Phoenix House assumed control of the program.

The Tuum Est board of directors approved the Phoenix House takeover by a 5-3 vote on Thursday. The move followed months of speculation about the future of the nonprofit drug center, which has been losing about $15,000 a month.

Mark Winogrond, the outgoing chairman of the Tuum Est board, voted against the transfer. But Winogrond said the majority of the board, after meeting for more than two hours, decided that Phoenix House had made the best offer.

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“In the end, their proven fund-raising record, their treatment of our staff and the similarity of the two programs was sufficient to convince the majority of the board to go with Phoenix House,” Winogrond said.

Service to Continue

Phoenix House, which also operates drug centers in Orange County, San Diego and the New York City area, assumed control of Tuum Est immediately after Thursday’s vote, according to Winogrond. In a statement released this week, Phoenix House officials said there would be no interruption in services and no immediate program changes. They could not be reached for further comment.

But Bill McNally, a volunteer who headed the Ad Hoc Committee to Save Tuum Est, questioned the propriety of the Phoenix House takeover. McNally charged that the Tuum Est board ignored his group’s efforts to maintain local control of the agency, even though it had rallied community support.

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“It was outrageous,” McNally said. “The board just wanted to get rid of Tuum Est. They were talking out of both sides of their mouths.”

Tuum Est, which roughly translates from Latin as “it’s up to you,” has been a fixture on Venice’s Ocean Front Walk for more than a decade. The facility can treat up to 55 patients at a time and has been called one of the county’s toughest and most successful drug abuse treatment centers.

The $1.5 million-a-year program, which has been funded by private donors and the county, has been in deeply debt since 1984, when its headquarters underwent more than $1 million in earthquake safety and renovation work.

In March, the Tuum Est board confirmed that the center was losing about $15,000 a month. The Phoenix House takeover was discussed at that time, but McNally’s committee persuaded the board to postpone its decision for 30 days.

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Considerable Opposition

During that time McNally rallied considerable opposition to the Phoenix House takeover. A Century City medical group offered to provide money and manpower, 26 people volunteered for the Tuum Est board and Supervisor Deane Dana wrote a letter pledging his assistance and stressing the importance of maintaining community control of Tuum Est.

“In less than a month a wealth of resources and offers unselfishly came forth,” McNally said. “And that’s no small commitment for people to make, especially when you’re talking about volunteering to help an agency in financial trouble. . . . Yet the board seemed to ignore what they saw and heard. The room was packed and only one person spoke on behalf of giving up the agency to a national chain. Everyone else was for local control.”

Winogrond agreed that there was a “huge swelling of community support” for keeping Tuum Est in local hands when the board met last week. But the majority still favored the Phoenix House proposal, he added.

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“Phoenix House has a famous national reputation,” Winogrond said. “They are an honorable, legitimate program. I don’t think the changes (caused by the takeover) will be significant or noticeable to the community.”


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