CONWAY — Even as the COVID-19 outbreak at the Green Mountain Treatment Center has grown to over 100 people, a person who lives near the North Conway accommodations where residents of the Effingham drug rehab facility have been staying isn't actually a hotel as the owner has claimed.
According to State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan, on Dec. 3, there were 13 coronavirus infections in residents and 14 among staff at the center.
By Dec. 22, the number of infections reported at the center had risen to 103 (67 residents, 36 staffers).
Eric Spofford, CEO of Granite Recovery Centers, which includes Green Mountain, has described Forest Glen Inn on Artist Falls Road in North Conway as a hotel that he owns, though it’s not part of Granite Recovery and is under a different LLC.
According to a staffer at the center, COVID-positive clients of Green Mountain have been put up at Forest Glen.
On Dec. 22, an Artist Falls resident sent an email of complaint to Town Manager Tom Holmes, saying, "I read with great interest Daymond Steer's article in the Sun last week regarding the Forest Glen Inn on Artist Falls Road,” the letter said.
“What has been going on there is a concern of mine and my neighbors for over a year now. I did some poking around about a year ago and clearly, they're not operating as a hotel.”
The person noted that the hotel’s website has been under construction for a year and that the phone number is always busy. She said website reviews only occur on holidays and conjectured that perhaps they let a few guests stay there occasionally to keep up the “facade.”
“Also, their vans, about 4-5 of them at a time, drive so fast down our otherwise quiet street. Also, neighbors closer to the facility report increased traffic on Sundays (visiting days) as well as middle of the night clearing of the building to check for suspected contraband which is very noisy and disruptive. Everyone on Artist Falls Road knows this is NOT a hotel unless there is some loophole they are operating under.”
Asked about the neighbor's complaint, Holmes said: “The town is already looking into it. We initiated an investigation as soon as we were told of an upcoming story on NHPR (which has since been published) regarding the number of (COVID) positives at the company's rehab facilities around the state and that they were being sent to the Forest Glen Inn for quarantine.
"We have contacted state agencies for guidance and are awaiting their answers,” he said.
In a previous email, Holmes said that Spofford gave the town assurances in writing that the Forest Glen would be run a hotel.
The Sun asked Granite Recovery spokesman Josh McElveen about the recent complaint. He said he would bring the Sun’s question to Spofford’s attention but also cautioned that Spofford was “talking to lawyers” about the Sun’s previous story.
Last February, another Artist Falls resident had contacted the town about a “loud commotion” taking place outside the building. She said it appeared the building was being used for sober living and not as a hotel.
Around that time, Spofford wrote to Conway Building Inspector David Pandora insisting that Forest Glen was being used as a hotel. He did say that Green Mountain does provide transportation in the form of shuttle vans between Forest Glen and the Effingham treatment center.
“FGI is a hotel and people who are in recovery do stay there,” said Spofford. “I can see how that has caused some confusion/concern. The guests of FGI will not be a problem. The hotel staff will make sure that it is a smoothly well-run hotel and will handle any problems that arise with its guests (although we don’t expect many problems).”
On Dec. 28, Associate New Hampshire Attorney General Anne Edwards told the Sun that the Attorney General's Office received a complaint from a spouse of a Green Mountain client who said people at the inn, including her spouse, were not wearing masks or social distancing.
Edwards said the AG's office informed the inn in late November or early December that people in common areas who can't be 6 feet apart need to wear masks. She said it sounded like the breakfast buffet at the inn was not being run in accordance with Emergency Order 74, which is the governor's mask rule.
Buffets need to be served by mask-wearing staff.
"They said they would implement those changes," said Edwards, adding that the AG's office has not heard any more complaints.
Edwards said the AG's office also spoke to the treatment center and asked why they were moving clients to the inn.
"What we were told at that time was that ... these are people who are coming near the end of their treatment, that they were concerned about the outbreak that they had at the treatment facility and they were moving those people out of the treatment facility to the inn temporarily before they were discharged in order to help manage the outbreak," said Edwards.