Disabled protesters block HCFA workers Demonstrators make a point about freedom.

May 01, 1991|By Meredith Schlow | Meredith Schlow,Evening Sun Staff

Ruth Stringfellow's car was only about 50 feet from the exit of the Social Security Administration and Health Care Financing Administration building when the group of disabled demonstrators blocked her in.

"I almost made it," she said sadly, looking out toward Woodlawn Road.

Yesterday, for the second day in a row, demonstrators protested federal rules that they say relegate many of them to nursing homes when they should be able to live on their own.

The government, they said, should shift money in the Medicaid health program, which serves the poor and disabled, away from nursing homes and toward payments to attendants who can care for the disabled in their own homes.

Protesters were members of the national group Americans Disabled for Attendant Programs Today.

While Monday's demonstration was generally uneventful, yesterday's, which began just before 3 p.m., prevented employees from the two offices from leaving for several hours after their work day was complete.

Demonstrators said they wanted to show able-bodied people what it's like to have the privilege of freedom taken away, something they say happens every day inside nursing homes.

"It's the same kind of feeling -- you can't leave when you want to. You need my permission," said Mike Auberger, who traveled from Denver for the protest.

Although employees expressed anger and frustration over their inability to leave work, some said that they still felt respect for the protesters cause. Most said that the demonstration was held in the wrong location, however.

"I can understand what they're protesting about, but there's nothing we can do about it here -- they should be where the politicians are," said one woman who declined to give her name.

"They have a legitimate complaint, but I think they should be in D.C.," agreed Pauline DeVance.

But protester Nate Butler said the Woodlawn employees are an "integral part of a system that's really oppressive."

"I'm sympathetic to all these folks not able to get home, but this is a really minor inconvenience compared to the inconveniences suffered by those in nursing homes," he said.

By 4:30, Baltimore County police had created a makeshift exit behind the building into the Knight's Inn parking lot, through which employees departed, one car at a time.

Police were reluctant to arrest protesters because their disabilities make them more difficult to transport and house, according to Baltimore County police spokesman Sgt. Steven Doarnberger.

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