Eighteen men nobody wants

November 24, 1992

Residents living around Springfield Hospital Center are getting their dander up over the possibility that a group of mentally retarded men may be transferred from the Rosewood Center in Owings Mills.

They are concerned that the security at Springfield is inadequate and that their neighborhood is becoming a dumping ground for patients in the state system who are not wanted elsewhere.

The focus of their anxiety is 18 young men who were committed to Rosewood after being charged with committing sex crimes but then judged not guilty because of mental retardation. In terms of the law, these men are not criminals. Rather, they are mentally retarded adults who need very strict supervision.

In June, one of the patients escaped and was accused of starting the fire that destroyed the Sportsman's Hall roller rink in Baltimore County. This escape -- and an earlier incident involving an escapee who is accused of assaulting a female minister -- galvanized the Owings Mills neighborhood around Rosewood.

The residents put pressure on their elected officials. State Senator Janice Piccinini, D-Baltimore County, is now putting pressure on the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to move these men.

State officials are reviewing their limited options. Because all these men are mentally retarded, they can't be placed anywhere.

The state operates five centers around the state for retarded and developmentally disabled persons. These men must be segregated from other residents, which means that the department has to find space large enough to house them and their program.

In addition, they need more security.

Springfield Hospital Center is designed to house mentally ill patients, but the needs and programs for the retarded are different from those for the mentally ill. At this point, Health Department officials won't say whether Springfield will house these adults. It is possible that these patients will remain at Rosewood, possibly with beefed-up security.

Even if Springfield does not house these particular patients, it may be called on to house others. In any case, clear, frank and open communication between state health department officials and the surrounding communities will go a long way in allaying some of the neighbors' worst fears.

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