Sabatini promises to confer Secretary attempts to quell 'hysteria'

January 06, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

Nelson J. Sabatini said he will make no final decision on th transfer of 18 violent patients to Springfield Hospital Center in South Carroll without consulting county officials and community residents.

Sykesville Mayor Lloyd R. Helt said he would hold Mr. Sabatini accountable for that promise.

Mr. Sabatini, state secretary of health and mental hygiene, met with about 50 officials and residents yesterday at the hospital. He said he came to quell the "hysteria" surrounding the $l proposed transfer of the patients, now housed in Rosewood Center in Baltimore County.

"I promise you there will be no movement of people from Rosewood to this campus without full discussion," he said.

He began the hour-long discussion, during which he refused to answer questions from the media, by thanking county officials for dealing with residents' "hysteria."

"I don't use 'hysteria' loosely," said Mr. Sabatini. "The issue has been fueled by inappropriate and misleading reporting. It makes the public think [the transfer] is a done deal."

Charles Feaga, a Howard County councilman, said people are "rightfully concerned."

"We have to know which patients are coming to Springfield, and is there security," the 5th District Republican said.

Kathleen Horneman of the South Carroll Coalition said her group was not hysterical. She called the coalition a group of "practical citizens" who want answers. She also delivered 432 signatures protesting the transfer to the secretary and said she expects to have about 400 more signed petitions before the state legislature opens next week.

Mr. Sabatini listed the protection and safety of the community and of the individuals in the state's care as his two main objectives.

"These patients are human beings," he said. "We cannot guarantee 100 percent security for the community, but we must make sure the security is as good as possible."

The secretary said his department is looking at about 10 possible sites to house the patients "to see which is the most sensible."

He said repeatedly that no transfer would happen without community input. If his department acted without informing the community, he said, "I guarantee you officials here would make my life miserable."

After the meeting, Jeanne Sandruck-Fahey said she wondered how miserable Owings Mills residents and Baltimore County officials were making the secretary's life now.

"Did he go to the community surrounding Rosewood to ask if he could place these clients in their neighborhood?" she asked.

Mr. Sabatini said he has not ruled out keeping the patients at Rosewood Center, where security has been "enhanced." He said he has no "legal mandate" to force the transfer.

"We are not going to move them from one hysterical place to another," he said.

Mr. Sabatini attacked Ms. Horneman for calling his office's treatment of the coalition "sloppy." After repeated attempts to meet with the secretary, Tuesday's meeting marked the first time the group has been able to speak directly with him.

The secretary would not answer Ms. Horneman's question on the exact nature of the patients' behavior.

"Was someone killed by any of these patients?" she asked.

"I won't answer that," he said. "They have been involved in violent behavior. Every institution throughout the state has people with serious behavioral problems."

Carroll County Commissioners Elmer C. Lippy and Donald I. Dell attended the session, along with members of the state legislative delegation. Mr. Lippy called the patients' background matter of semantics.

"This is a real Catch-22 situation," he said. "A murderer is not judged a murderer because he is mentally defective. Yet, he is still a murderer.

"Springfield is anything but a secure facility and is inadequate both structurally and administratively to handle criminals. I have a real fear for citizens because of the hideous crimes these people have committed against society," Mr. Lippy said.

Mr. Sabatini said the patients are neither criminals nor insane. Their primary diagnosis is "developmentally disabled," and they must be placed in a secure facility that meets their needs, he said.

Betty Duncan, who retired after 38 years on the staff of Springfield and is a lifelong South Carroll resident, said the state is playing games with the community and the clients at both facilities.

"The patients represent a danger to the hospital employees and the community," she said.

She said she has little faith in official promises.

"I remember how they were breaking ground for the Central LTC Laundry Facility [a minimum-security prison] while they were telling us there would be no prisons at Springfield," she said.

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