Since the Keene Metro Treatment Center opened in Swanzey in 2006, it’s become familiar with town police.

Clinic staff call Swanzey police regularly for complaints including unwanted subjects, people sleeping in their cars waiting for the clinic to open, assaults and illegal drug activity taking place in the parking lot, according to Sgt. Joel Sampson.

He said Swanzey police also get calls from people reporting patients with suspended driver’s licenses and hit-and-runs in the parking lot.

“We get a lot of complaints ... from people who travel to work every day,” Sampson said, adding police have gotten reports of clients swerving out of the clinic’s parking lot, nearly causing accidents.

N.H. State Police Sgt. Shawn Skahan witnessed a few accidents involving methadone clinic patients, including one that involved Goshen woman Shawna Palmer, who was traveling home from the Concord Metro clinic when she crashed her car on July 12, 2007.

Skahan said he remembered traveling down I-89 after being told to be on the lookout for a vehicle speeding and swerving.

As Skahan caught up with the vehicle on the interstate, it drifted to the right.

“I didn’t have a chance to put my lights on until she hit the guardrail,” he said.

The vehicle slammed into the guardrail, and Palmer, the driver, was ejected. Her spine was severed from the accident, leaving her paralyzed.

The 20-year-old Palmer later sued Concord Metro.

Like Jenna Lydon (see related story on A1), Palmer was represented by Holly Haines and Kevin Dugan of Manchester law firm Abramson, Brown and Dugan. They alleged Palmer crashed her car while high on a combination of methadone and Xanax, after a year of treatment at Concord Metro. A confidentiality agreement bars Haines and Dugan from discussing the resolution of Palmer’s case.

Officials from Keene Metro and its parent company, Colonial Management, did not return calls or emails for comment.

Local police said they’ve also encountered problems with the clinic when it comes to confidentiality policies.

The clinic follows the rules of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA); staff can’t disclose a client’s identity unless that client says it’s okay.

But that’s proved troublesome when clinic staff call police, ask them to arrest someone for activity in the clinic or clinic’s parking lot — and then can’t give police the name of the person involved, Sampson said.

On one occasion in 2008, clinic staff told N.H. State Police officers they could not enter the building to interview a victim of domestic assault who was hiding there.

“We were pretty shocked,” said Trooper Scott Ellis, one of the officers there that day. “We were met at the front door and told, ‘Yes, she’s here, but no, you can’t come in.’”

The woman was an assault victim, but also had an arrest warrant for a separate issue and later ran into the woods, Ellis said.

After that incident, state and Swanzey police checked with officials from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and were told clinic staff were within their rights to not let them in, Ellis said.

“We were told that was correct, it’s sort of a haven,” Ellis said, adding he was unsure whether the justification for it was HIPAA or related to the fact the clinic is subject to DEA oversight.

DEA spokesman Anthony Pettigrew said that he doesn’t believe HIPAA regulations apply to a criminal investigation, adding that they only apply when law enforcement officers are trying to obtain a patient’s medical records.

“I know every jurisdiction varies, as do state requirements, but if an officer has probable cause to arrest someone, they can arrest them,” Pettigrew said.

No other similar situation has since occurred at Keene Metro, but Ellis said it could happen again.

“If they call because a patient is out of control,” he said, “we were also told we couldn’t go in, hypothetically.”

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