Moving mentally disabled patients opposed

Attorney for residents at Rosewood sues Md.

October 17, 2003|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

A lawyer representing mentally disabled Rosewood Center residents who have been accused of serious crimes sued Maryland health department officials yesterday, saying her clients are entitled to individual hearings before the state moves them to a maximum-security facility.

In papers filed in Howard County Circuit Court, lawyer Ria P. Rochvarg says the state must convince an administrative law judge in each case that a transfer to the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup is necessary. The suit says the state is required to serve all people with disabilities in the "least restrictive environment."

Rochvarg has a contract with the health department to represent Rosewood residents in civil matters.

The lawsuit was prompted by a commitment by Nelson J. Sabatini, secretary of Maryland's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, to move all court-committed residents from Rosewood in Owings Mills after an alleged killer escaped in May.

Rosewood is an institution for developmentally disabled people. Of its 205 residents, 40 are there under court order, accused of crimes including murder, rape, child abuse, assault, robbery and arson. They have been found incapable of standing trial or not criminally responsible for their crimes because of their disabilities.

Sabatini plans to move 15 who are accused of the most severe crimes by Oct. 31 to the Perkins Center. He said he hopes to build a facility for all court-committed residents, likely on the Perkins grounds. He wants to use funds designated to renovate the Rosewood buildings where they are housed.

Lois Fisher, the public defender who represents the court-committed residents in criminal matters, said the 15 people would be moved to a tiny unit at Perkins where many of their possessions -- including televisions, stereos, hard-covered books and chewing gum -- would not be permitted. She also said they would have to give up paying jobs at Rosewood, including janitorial services.

While he said he could not comment directly on the lawsuit, Sabatini said yesterday that Rosewood's residents "have basic rights that I will not ignore and we plan to honor."

The General Assembly's budget committees have asked the health department to recommend by next month one of its four institutions for the developmentally disabled to be closed. Many Rosewood families and employees suspect Rosewood will be closed.

Sun staff writer Lisa Goldberg contributed to this article.

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