The only applicant seeking state approval for a 26-bed hospital for violent juvenile sex offenders wants to put the facility at Taylor Manor Health System in Ellicott City.
Citing security concerns that alarmed its neighbors, Sheppard Pratt Health System officials decided last week against putting such a facility on its Towson grounds.
Behavioral Health Management Association (BHMA) -- which runs a psychiatric hospital and treatment programs in Ephrata, Pa. -- asked the state yesterday to approve it operating the sex offender program in a four-story, 24,000-square-foot building on Taylor Manor Hospital's 70-acre campus off College Avenue.
The program, which may open as soon as next year, has spurred the same concerns about safety among Taylor Manor's Ellicott City neighbors as it did among those residing near Sheppard Pratt. The hospital's campus backs up to several subdivisions along College Avenue.
"On the surface, it sounds pretty scary to have sex offenders in here," said Karen Justice, executive director of the Ellicott City Tourism Council.
Said Janet Kusterer, an Ellicott City resident: "I would have a problem if they put a facility like that in a beautiful, residential neighborhood. What are the chances of them getting out and disturbing the neighbors? It's just not a good location."
Last week, Sheppard Pratt's board of trustees voted against going forward with plans to house the juveniles, typically ages 12 to 18, at its Towson psychiatric facility after elected officials and area residents objected.
The state, which has been housing about 48 such offenders out of state at a high cost, has requested that the health care community provide such facilities in Maryland. This month. the state approved a 26-bed facility on Frederick Road in West Baltimore to be run by Chesapeake Treatment Centers Inc.
Chesapeake Treatment Centers and Baltimore-based Maryland Treatment Centers Inc. were also expected to file applications -- for a second facility. Ramsay Health Care Inc. of Miami was designing the program proposed at Sheppard Pratt.
But the only applicant by yesterday's 5 p.m. deadline at the Maryland Health Resources Planning Commission -- which must approve the plan -- was BHMA.
The 80-year-old Taylor Manor hospital -- which offers inpatient and outpatient counseling services, alcohol and drug treatment and a group home for severely mentally ill teen-age boys -- has been trying to adjust to a shrinking patient load brought on by changes in the health care industry.
It wants to put the male sex offenders in a building that now houses a dozen adolescent patients and a year-round program of Howard County schools for seriously disturbed children, programs that would be moved to another building.
"We're basically being the landlord," said Jon Garber, the Taylor system's director of business development. "It makes sense for us because we have the building. It's designed to treat and manage this population."
The building, Garber said, is about a quarter-mile from the rest of the buildings. Its 30-foot-by-50-foot outdoor recreation area is surrounded by a 12-foot barbed-wire fence. Officials at BHMA said the building will have motion-sensitive and video cameras in hallways and rooms and outside the building. The main entrance and the stairwell are locked with double bolts.
Patients would receive 24-hour supervision from a staff of about 49 counselors, doctors and nurses, said Michael Beavers, president of The Terraces, BHMA's Pennsylvania treatment center.
At Sheppard Pratt, officials said the 105-year-old hospital's wooded campus was not appropriate for housing juvenile sex offenders.
"The level of security that is needed wasn't compatible with the open campus we have here," Steven S. Sharfstein, president and chief executive officer, said yesterday.
The hospital, earlier known as Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, was shaken almost two years ago by the slaying of a counselor in an unlocked, therapeutic group home.
Sharon Edwards, a 26-year-old mother, was stabbed to death Oct. 8, 1995, her first night working at a residential cottage on the grounds of the hospital. Benjamin Scott Garris, a 16-year-old living in the cottage, was convicted of first-degree murder last July.
That slaying was on the minds of some residents interviewed yesterday near Taylor Manor in a part of Ellicott City that is rapidly developing with new subdivisions.
"If anything happens at Taylor Manor like that very sad thing that happened at Sheppard Pratt with a woman being killed, it would lTC be terrible," said Roberta Davis, 70, a 41-year resident of Ellicott City. "There's nothing to say either that it couldn't happen here or anywhere."
Most residents said they were caught by surprise by the plan, which had not been publicly announced.