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Venice Drug Abuse Center Given 30 Days to Solve Financial Woes

March 13, 1986|ALAN CITRON | Times Staff Writer

Supporters of a financially troubled drug-abuse center that has been a fixture on Venice's Ocean Front Walk for more than a decade have been given 30 days to find solutions for the institution's problems.

The board of directors of Tuum Est, a nonprofit drug rehabilitation program at 503 Ocean Front Walk, this week unanimously voted to postpone a decision on the center's future. Board members said the program needs an additional $15,000 a month to remain afloat.

"We're hoping Tuum Est can get back on its feet," said Chairman Mark Winogrond, who estimated monthly expenses at $75,000. "Our goal is to provide a long-term, stable, substance abuse-treatment program for the Westside."

Management of Tuum Est will probably be transferred from local hands to a national drug abuse chain known as the Phoenix House Foundation if the money is not forthcoming, Winogrond said. But volunteer Bill McNally, the leader of a group known as the Ad Hoc Committee to Save Tuum Est, said he is confident that his organization can raise the funds needed to stop the transfer.

"We've already written a letter explaining the center's problems in detail," said McNally, who estimated that the group would need to raise at least $50,000. "Now we'll approach corporations and individuals for money."

Winogrond said the board and management of Tuum Est will also investigate ways to increase funding for agency, which has an annual budget of about $1.5 million. One possible solution, according to Winogrond, is enlarging the board and opening the center to short-term private insurance patients.

Tuum Est, which roughly translates to "it's up to you," has been located on Ocean Front Walk since 1974 and can serve more than 50 drug and alcohol abusers at a time. Residents in the program submit to a rugged two-year treatment program that claims a 40% success rate, twice the national average.

Continuing Problems

Winogrond said the agency, which is partly funded with public monies, has suffered from continuing financial problems. The latest blow came in 1984, when the board was forced to spend more than $1 million for mandatory earthquake-safety renovation of the 69-year-old building that serves as its headquarters.

Winogrond said the nine-member board has been unable to raise the money needed to run the agency since the renovation work was completed. Under its current budget, he estimated that the center can continue for two months.

Should the fund-raising effort fail, Winogrond said Phoenix House, a $14-million-a-year drug-abuse program which has centers in Santa Ana, San Diego and the New York City area, would be the best choice to manage the facility. Winogrond said the Phoenix House program provides the same kind of long-range care as Tuum Est and has an excellent reputation.

Dr. Mitchell S. Rosenthal, the president of Phoenix House, said his organization is "seriously considering" the Tuum Est takeover. Rosenthal said Phoenix House, which has been searching for a place to house a Los Angeles County facility, expects to make a final decision in April.

"We would try to deliver the same kind of high-quality services that the program is known for with as little disruption to clients and existing staff as possible," Rosenthal said. "We would also seek some additional funds from private sources as well as government agencies because Tuum Est has had chronic financial problems."

Opposes Takeover

McNally, who has been associated with the center since its beginning, contends that the financial problems can be solved without a takeover. In addition to raising funds, McNally said his group would seek volunteers willing to serve on the board. McNally said the nine-member board is too small. He said he would push for a board of at least 20 people.

"We should be reaching out to the Tuum Est family, which is considerable," McNally said. "Let's see if the community and the family of Tuum Est want to give it up. . . . I think we can reach out and develop its resources."

McNally was also critical of the current board. He accused board members of secretly trying to negotiate the Phoenix House takeover. He also maintained that the board is "giving up the ship" too easily.

The board denied those charges. Gerald Newmark, a longtime board member, accused McNally of "totally distorting" the board's position. Winogrond said the board would do anything reasonable to maintain local control.

"It is a matter of head versus heart," Winogrond said. "Our hearts tell us we want to keep it in its present configuration. Our heads tell us it has serious financial problems."

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