Disabled county residents told a county commission last week that Howard County General Hospital is inaccessible to the handicapped.
"It's unconscionable for them to call themselves Howard County General Hospital when they are not a general hospital," said Richard J. Schneider, testifying at a public hearing before the county's Commission on Disability Issues.
"They cannot accommodate handicapped people," said Schneider, who spends much of his time in a wheelchair.
While a patient at Howard County General a year ago, Schneider found that the hospital's bathrooms were not equipped for use by the handicapped.
There were no seats inside the shower stalls or hand-held shower sprays, making the facilities difficult or impossible for handicapped people to use.
Fran Chasse, a Columbia resident with epilepsy, said hospital staff did not follow directions to provide her with a special diet and left her unsupervised while she was taking a shower in which there were no safety bars, during her hospital stay last summer.
After she had been in the shower 20 minutes, hospital staff checked and found that she had suffered a seizure, Chasse said.
"I told them I needed to be supervised when I was bathing, because if I had a bad seizure I could drown," said Chasse, who complained at the time to state delegate Virginia Thomas, D-13A.
"Next time I went everything was taken care of," Chasse said of her subsequent visit to Howard County General.
The commission has appointed a committee to examine accessibility for the disabled at the hospital, said commission executive secretary Ann Wicke.
Last week, the commission sent a letter to Howard County General requesting permission to conduct an inspection of the hospital with an inspector from the county Department of Licenses and Permits. Hospital president Victor Broccolino said he will cooperate with the commission and is arranging a meeting between commission members and hospital management.
The hospital has occasionally received complaints from disabled patients regarding accessibility, although each concern hasn't been addressed, Broccolino said. However, he said, the hospital is in compliance with codes and regulations addressing the needs of disabled patients.
"We're willing to take another look to see whether we are in compliance and if improvements have to be made, we'll make them," Broccolino said.
The seven-member commission, which advises the county executive and county council, will consider information gathered at the hearing in developing a work plan for the coming year.
The lack of transportation services for the disabled was another area of concern at the hearing, attended by about 30 people.
Handicapped county residents told the commission that they were virtually homebound due to inadequate attention to the transportation needs of the disabled.
Chasse said one reason she moved to the area was because ColumBus stopped in front of her house. However, the bus no longer stops near her home, because of recent route changes.
"I have a lot of appointments back and forth to the doctor's," Chasse said. "I can afford to call a cab and I have a support network, but what about the people who don't?"
Chasse said that changes in the county's public transportation network have benefited commuters only.
"Who have the politicians helped? Commuters, people who have jobs," Chasse said. "If you want to go shopping during the day, there haven't been any substantial improvements."
Many disabled people rely on the Urban Rural Transportation Alliance to get around, but URTA has been strained in recent years by increasing service demands.
URTA passengers now must give one week's notice to arrange a ride, up from the three days' notice required in past years.
Suggesting that URTA's notice period be reduced and service hours increased, Barbara Brill of Columbia said that, "Some individuals are stranded in Baltimore because their appointments run past URTA's pickup time."
Georgia Meyung told the commission of her need for housekeeping help at her apartment in Columbia.
"I'm in a wheelchair," said Meyung. "If not for my neighbors taking in my laundry, doing a few dishes, I would really be in a fix right now."
Meyung and many disabled people need personal attendant care at home but are finding they either can't afford the service or that it's not available.
Home health personnel can help people with such daily living skills as bathing, eating and cleaning, and allow the disabled to live as independently as possible.