Rosewood stays site for potentially violent retarded

February 09, 1994|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Sun Staff Writer

Potentially violent mentally retarded people who are under court commitment will continue to be housed at the Rosewood Center despite complaints from a Baltimore County state senator, State Health Secretary Nelson J. Sabatini said yesterday.

Sen. Janice Piccinini, a 10th District Democrat, conceded that there have been no new court-committed patients at the Owings Mills hospital and no incidents involving any of the patients, including pedophiles, since heavy security measures were installed at two buildings last year.

However, Senator Piccinini said that nothing has been done since November 1992, when a senior state health official promised that all the court-committed patients would be removed.

"I at least expected to see planning for a permanent solution but there hasn't been anything," Senator Piccinini said. "They're just buying time by telling us there are no new [patients] there. If Rosewood is the permanent solution then I'm unhappy."

For the foreseeable future, at least, Rosewood is the only solution,

Mr. Sabatini said yesterday. There are no present plans to establish another secure facility to house such patients, he said.

Sen. Paula Hollinger, a District 11 Democrat and Senator Piccinini's probable opponent in this year's Democratic primary election due to redrawn legislative district boundaries, pooh-poohed her rival's complaint, saying that the controversy was settled last year.

Rosewood's neighbors were rightfully upset when several patients escaped and one burned down a nearby skating rink, Senator Hollinger said.

"It was a horrible situation," she said.

However, heavy security has been installed since then in two buildings and no incidents have occurred, she said.

"My granddaughter goes to day-care adjacent to Rosewood so you know I'd be concerned, along with her mother and father," Senator Hollinger said. "I live close enough to Rosewood that I'm in the community a lot and there isn't a problem."

However, Senator Piccinini still regards as a binding commitment the promise made by Dr. Lois M. Meszaros, director of the Developmental Disabilities Administration, (DDA), that court-committed patients would be transferred from Rosewood.

Sabatini quickly disavowed Dr. Meszaros' statement and relieved her of the authority, although not the title, of DDA director. Mr. Sabatini said again yesterday that Rosewood is the only institution with buildings secure enough to hold potentially violent mentally retarded patients.

After the issue of court-committed violent patients at Rosewood erupted in late 1992, state officials examined other institutions, including Springfield Hospital Center and the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital. They concluded that neither institution had a place for the court-committed mentally retarded patients.

Senator Piccinini said that Mr. Sabatini told her those patients have not been convicted of crimes so they could not go to Perkins, which houses the criminally insane. A separate wing could be built at Perkins so the two groups of people need not mingle, she said.

"I know it's expensive but I said I would be happy to work with them about it," the senator said.

Perkins provides psychiatric care. Rosewood's patients are mentally retarded and receive different treatment, Mr. Sabatini said.

"I don't have the capacity to treat them at Perkins and you don't treat them with psychiatrists," he said.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer visited Rosewood a year ago at Senator Piccinini's request. He, too, gave her little reason to hope for quick resolution, citing lack of money for another secure facility. The governor said he was satisfied with what had been done to make Rosewood's buildings secure.

Despite the setbacks, Senator Piccinini raised the issue again last week when Mr. Sabatini appeared before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and she reiterated them yesterday.

"It's difficult to find places, I know, but the commitment was made that they would be taken out and a year later they're still there," she said. "My contention is that Rosewood, in a residential area, is the wrong place for forensics patients."

Jack Buffington, who replaced Dr. Meszaros in command of DDA, yesterday said that there are 20 court-committed patients at Rosewood, three fewer than a year ago.

Three mentally retarded people committed last year by court order were sent to Great Oaks Center in Silver Spring, he said. They were deemed not potentially violent.

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