Longtime executive director of Prevention Point Philadelphia to step down
Following three decades of work combating social issues, Jose Benitez has decided to step down from his position after 16 years.
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Jose Benitez, the Executive Director of Prevention Point Philadelphia, has announced he will resign from his position at the end of June, ending his 16-year period of leading the nonprofit.
Based in Kensington, Prevention Point Philadelphia is a nonprofit public health organization that provides harm reduction services targeting substance abuse and poverty to Philadelphia and the local region.
As of the last 12 months, they have served 36,000 people, with numbers being three times higher in 2019.
They seek to fill a regional lack of addiction healthcare, offering services that range from needle drops — where used needles can be replaced for clean ones — to HIV testing and housing assistance.
During his tenure, Prevention Point's staff grew from 20 to 130, broadening their services to include case management, treatment for opioid use disorder, and housing services.
After 30 years of social work, Benitez has stated that he seeks a change and has chosen to leave Prevention Point, having been in discussions about the leadership transition with their board since early April. He officially announced his decision to Prevention Point staff on April 21.
“This is just me feeling like it’s time to look at some new challenges,” Benitez said to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Following his departure he intends to rest, travel, and “decide where I can make a difference and I can contribute something else,” he said.
Prevention Point has announced that Silvana Mazzella, their current Associate Director, will act as Interim Director after June 30, until the board has completed their search for a permanent replacement. She has worked with the nonprofit since 2008.
Following his resignation, Benitez has stated he will continue to serve on the board of Safehouse, a nonprofit seeking to open a location in Philadelphia where those dealing with addiction are permitted to use drugs while under medical supervision.
Safehouse has been at the center of some controversy in the city as the effectiveness of safe injection sites has been up for debate, though presently they are not under state oversight due to Pennsylvania’s lack of laws legalizing syringe-exchange programs, of which they are seeking to change.
Recently, the Department of Justice has faced backlash for hosting negotiations with Safehouse and the City Solicitor without including local officials and residents in on the process, with appeals for officials to be included beginning approximately two months ago.
The underpinning ideology behind these safe injection sites is harm reduction, an approach to addiction that seeks to ensure the safety and health of drug users whether or not they are ready to quit, albeit it is one that has become the center of national discussion.
As Benitez departs from Prevention Point, he leaves the organization with its own issues, according to an Inquirer investigation of former staff, who reported working under dangerous conditions, unchecked sexual harassment, and danger to both patients and workers alike.
Despite this, Benitez has stated that these issues have no impact on his decision to step down and work with Safehouse.
“We’re sort of blamed for the opioid crisis in the community,” Benitez said. “I say to people all the time that people don’t come here for syringes, they are in the community because, you know, there’s access to drugs. It’s always been a challenge to sort of try and educate people on harm reduction and the stigma that’s associated with the people that we serve.”