A handful of vocal community members gathered to address the Calhoun City Council members Monday night with questions about Advanced Wellness, the pain clinic that lost and regained its business license recently.
They wondered why the business, which is under the investigation of local law enforcement officials and the state medical board, is still in operation.
Calhoun Police Department, accompanied by state medical board officials, entered Advanced Wellness Wednesday, March 16, to take the license in accordance with the city’s nuisance ordinance.
The city had been receiving complaints that Advanced Wellness customers were loitering in the area, and cars full of people waiting to be seen at the establishment were parked in the parking lots of nearby businesses. According to Calhoun Police Department Detective Lt. Tony Pyle, law officers in other states had reported that individuals they found with narcotic pills said they got prescriptions for them at Advanced Wellness.
Dozens of cars with out-of-state plates from as far away as Kentucky, Ohio and Florida, are again parked at the business daily now that it has its license back.
Two women who work nearby said they do not feel safe at work because of the clientele who circulate in and out of Advanced Wellness. They and other community members spoke to the Calhoun Times on the condition of anonymity because they said they feared for their safety. One of them said an Advanced Wellness employee had used a gender slur toward her.
The individuals present spoke of a petition circulated throughout the medical community, and also presented to city officials, that protested the presence of Advanced Wellness.
John Hall, owner of The Prescription Shop, a pharmacy near Advanced Wellness, said he has declined to fill prescriptions for Advanced Wellness patients and that these patients have offered him as much as $1,500 more than the going cost of painkillers.
He said he felt a moral obligation not to serve these patients.
“(We) should be able to justify any prescription we fill as legitimate,” he explained.
He also said he fears for the students at nearby Gordon Central High School.
“It’s just a matter of time,” he said, before individuals filling narcotic prescriptions from Advanced Wellness begin selling the pills to Gordon County’s youth.
He also said his employees feel unsafe at work and that Advanced Wellness patients have approached them at inappropriate times like early morning as they are arriving at work.
The manager of another nearby pharmacy said Advanced Wellness patients — “carloads of people” — fill his parking lot “all day every day.”
He said he has had increased problems with shoplifting in his store.
Still at the forefront
Calhoun Mayor Jimmy Palmer assured the crowd that the matter is still at the forefront of city officials’ minds.
“I’m aware of some of the … clientele you’re speaking of,” he said. “I can understand, certainly, your concerns. We’re going to take another approach to it beginning tonight.”
The license was initially pulled “in error,” City Administrator Eddie Peterson said. “There’s a due process that has to take place … and that wasn’t followed.”
Calhoun Mayor Jimmy Palmer said the decision to revoke the license was based on a city ordinance put into place in 1988. According to that ordinance, the city must give “the licensee notice of the charges and an opportunity to be heard with respect to any revocation proceedings.”
There was not a hearing in regard to Advanced Wellness’ earlier license revocation.
A Friday press release from Advanced Wellness stated, “after an apparent misunderstanding on the part of the City of Calhoun regarding Advanced Wellness’ business license, the license was returned and the clinic is in good standing.”
The police department closed the business down to take the license because Advanced Wellness posed an “immediate threat to the health, safety and welfare of the public,” Peterson stated Friday afternoon.
Palmer said city council may change the guidelines for license revocation and added that officials will be “looking hard at the ordinance.”
However, the city must follow the law, and if the license had not been returned, the city, along with the mayor and individual council members could have been sued by Advanced Wellness, explained City Attorney Bill Bailey.
He said the city is still investigating grounds for license revocation in accordance with the ordinance, which states, after the licensee is afforded a hearing, if the city “finds that this article or any city ordinance or state or federal law with respect to the operation of the business or the licensee’s competence or qualifications to operate the business has been violated by the licensee or the licensee’s agent or employee, (the city can) revoke such license in its entirety, suspend the license for a specified period of time, place the licensee on probation or place other conditions thereon as it may deem necessary.”
“I know it’s hurting everybody,” Bailey told the crowd. “The wheels of justice move slowly … we’re going to try our best to protect you … to protect this community.”
Calhoun Police Department Detective Sgt. Jay Marquez echoed this sentiment.
“Are they right to be concerned? Yeah,” he stated. “Are we going to do something about it? Yeah.”
Dozens of cars with out-of-state plates parked at the business also drew the attention of local law enforcement officers and Calhoun city officials.
City police had Advanced Wellness on Curtis Parkway under surveillance for about a month, Peterson said March 16, the day the business license was taken.
The city had gotten complaints that Advanced Wellness customers were loitering outside the building, and that cars were spilling over from the parking lot into those of surrounding businesses. City police would have responded similarly to nuisance complaints at any business if they kept coming “just on and on and on,” explained Pyle.
No charges were filed against the business, the owners or any patrons on March 16, police said.
Calhoun Police Chief Garry Moss said last Wednesday that his department did not suspect any illegal drug activity was going on at the clinic, but the State Medical Board and Georgia Drug and Narcotics Agency were called in to make sure that the business was complying with state laws concerning the distribution of narcotics and patient treatment.
The business had been open since last Thanksgiving, and a doctor on staff volunteered to sign over the drugs, Moss said.
“We seized 196,329 pills,” he said. Those pills were mostly pain medications like OxyContin and Lorezapam, he added.
The pills will likely be destroyed after state officials finish their investigation, according to Moss.