State launches probe of psychiatric program after latest incident

September 15, 1992|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff Writer Staff writer Joe Nawrozki contributed to this story (APPEARED ONLY IN THE EVENING SUN)

The state secretary of health launched an investigation yesterday into an Anne Arundel County program for the mentally ill after one outpatient held 11 hostages at knifepoint in a Glen Burnie bank.

The hostage drama came less than four weeks after county police ordered another person in the program to undergo a psychiatric evaluation when residents of a Glen Burnie neighborhood charged that he was terrorizing their community by offering boys money to accompany him into nearby woods.

The two incidents have "raised serious concerns about the quality of care" at Omni House, in the first block of 3rd Ave. SW., said Michael D. Golden, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Lois Miller, executive director of Omni House, was on vacation and unavailable for comment. Other staff members referred calls to Susan Nathan, Omni House's attorney. She could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Golden said Nelson J. Sabatini, the state health secretary, ordered "a full licensure review" into Omni House records, programs and placement procedures.

The secretary said he will not tolerate low quality of care or lack of supervision" in residential programs for the mentally ill, Mr. Golden said.

He added that he could not recall a similar investigation into a psychiatric care program in the past five years. Omni House could face a reprimand or lose its license to operate.

Omni House, a non-profit rehabilitation program for the mentally ill, is a private organization but receives $1 million of its $1.9 million annual budget from the state.

The program has 52 beds in Anne Arundel County, said Mr. Golden, including 24 beds in 12 condominiums at Cromwell Fountain Apartments -- which Omni House owns -- and several apartments elsewhere in the county, which the program leases.

The suspect in yesterday's incident, Darrell T. Cornish, 26, had lived in a supervised apartment at Americana Circle Apartments in Glen Burnie since his release from Crownsville Hospital Center in late June. He had just arrived at the day program at Omni's offices shortly before 9 a.m. yesterday, Mr. Golden said, when he walked out and headed for the Bank of Glen Burnie, just three blocks away.

Last month, Charles E. Griffith, 31, who had lived in one of the Cromwell Fountain condominiums for a year, had told the staff he was seeking a job in the community, Omni staff members said.

Mr. Griffith, who was indicted on charges of sexual child abuse and related offenses in 1986, pleaded guilty to assault and battery in 1987, and prosecutors dropped the remaining charges. On Aug. 19, he was taken to Leland Memorial Hospital in Prince George's County for a psychiatric evaluation after complaints from residents about his behavior. County police said Mr. Griffith remains at the hospital.

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