Sabatini changes policy Carroll residents to be informed of Springfield escapes

January 10, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

Nelson J. Sabatini is opening lines of communication between Springfield Hospital Center and its South Carroll neighbors.

Mr. Sabatini, state secretary of health and mental hygiene, said he will "make certain" that residents of the communities surrounding the hospital know when potentially dangerous patients walk off the grounds and when they are returned.

The policy change follows a meeting Tuesday at the center, during which Mr. Sabatini discussed the proposed transfer of 18 violent patients from Rosewood Center in Baltimore County to any of 10 other sites in the state. The secretary said he has made no decision on the transfer.

Several residents, citing a lack of security at the center in South Carroll, questioned Mr. Sabatini about a recent incident when a potentially violent patient wandered through their neighborhood and near Carrolltowne Elementary School. The patient also ransacked a home and stole a change of clothing.

"No one called us," said Kathleen Horneman of the South Carroll Coalition. "The police just showed up, cordoned off the streets and searched."

Three months after the incident in question, residents still had no official word that the runaway had returned to the center. That was in keeping with DHMH policy.

"Confidentiality is the issue," said Mike Golden, spokesman for DHMH. "Patients are not inmates. They have the right to privacy."

Confidentiality will be protected, but Mr. Sabatini said residents willno longer be left in the dark.

"Residents will be able to call Springfield to find out if the patient has been returned," he said.

First Sgt. Steve Reynolds said the state police are also reviewing their policy.

"Frankly, we haven't known who to tell when we have a walk-off," he said. "Our plan now is to notify the presidents of homeowners associations and let them inform the community."

Ms. Horneman said walk-offs from the low-security center are frequent. The patients often end up in a neighborhood living room and are a phone call away from returning to the center.

"As a community, we have been understanding of the patients and responsive to their needs," she said.

The residents want to know as early as possible when a violent patient has escaped.

"Mr. Sabatini has assured me the community will always be informed of all violent elopements and we will know when the patient has been captured, so then we can feel safe," said Ms. Horneman.

Regardless of the new policy, the coalition remains opposed to any transfer of violent patients from Rosewood. Members have collected about 800 signatures to protest any move.

"We intend to continue collecting signatures, until Mr. Sabatini makes a decision," said Ms. Horneman.

Mr. Sabatini assured residents he will make no decision "without full discussion and community input" at a public hearing.

Other coalition members said they also will continue to express their opposition to the transfer and to a proposed detention center the Department of Juvenile Services is considering establishing on the center grounds.

"Springfield does not have the security to keep violent people," said Shelley Counts of Sykesville.

Angela Lee, also of Sykesville, said the hospital center cannot guarantee the safety of residents living near it.

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