Report supports closing center

Rosewood's land value makes it top choice for closure, Md. study says

Savings, advisability questioned

January 27, 2004|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

If Maryland is to close an institution for the developmentally disabled, the Rosewood Center in Owings Mills should be the one, the state health department says in a report released yesterday.

But closing any institution is too costly an undertaking in the state's current fiscal climate, according to Health Secretary Nelson J. Sabatini.

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene pointed to the $7.5 million, first-year cost of closing Rosewood in recommending at least a temporary reprieve for the facility.

Closing an institution would take two years or more, Sabatini said, and "you don't start saving money until the last resident is gone, and the land is disposed of."

The health department submitted the report to Del. Norman H. Conway and Sen. Ulysses Currie, chairmen of the General Assembly's budget committees. The committees had asked the department to recommend one of four institutions to close to save the state money.

It was unclear yesterday what action the chairmen will take next. Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, who represents the area, said she did not expect the matter to go much further this legislative session.

The fate of Rosewood, which opened in 1888 as the Asylum and Training School for the Feeble Minded, has been uncertain for years. Residents' families fended off an attempt by the state to close the facility in 1989.

Six of Maryland's 10 institutions for the developmentally disabled have closed during the past two decades, and the population of Maryland's institutions has dwindled to 404. More than 7,000 Maryland residents with disabilities receive residential services in their communities.

In its report, the health department says "the vast majority if not all residents can receive needed services in community settings."

Whether to close Rosewood has been the focus of intense debate among residents' families who believe their loved ones would not survive anywhere else and activists who say all disabled people should live in the communities they came from. Yesterday's report left neither side satisfied.

A decision to close Rosewood would throw into uncertainty the future of 235 acres of land in the middle of Owings Mills.

The state has been selling pieces of Rosewood's campus, which peaked in size at 682 acres in 1971. Baltimore County recently took steps toward buying 70 acres for the possible construction of a school.

The value of Rosewood's land was a significant factor in the health department's conclusion that Rosewood would be a better choice for closing than any of the state's other three institutions, the Joseph D. Brandenburg Center in Cumberland, Holly Center in Salisbury and the Potomac Center in Hagerstown.

Other factors include:

The Baltimore area offers more options for care for the 159 residents who would move to group homes.

Rosewood has 50 court-committed residents who would not be moved to group homes. The state plans to build a new facility for those residents - most of whom have been accused of serious crimes and found incapable of standing trial or not criminally responsible - at the state's maximum-security psychiatric hospital in Jessup. However, budget constraints may push completion of a new facility from 2006 to 2008, and the state needs somewhere to house residents in the meantime.

The Baltimore area offers more employment opportunities for staff who would lose their jobs. Rosewood has an equivalent of 631 full-time employees supporting its 209 residents; many would move to Jessup or be eligible for state retirement.

Rosewood's annual operating budget is $36 million, by far the largest of the four facilities.

Glenn Brown, whose 45-year-old daughter Jeannie has lived at Rosewood since age 7, said he was "delighted" that the department is not recommending immediate closure. Nonetheless, he said, he feels "extremely uneasy ... knowing that the other shoe is going to fall someday."

Miriam Leda, 84, who moved from Dundalk to Owings Mills to be near her daughter Charlene at Rosewood, echoed that sentiment.

"They're playing with people's lives," she said. "If Charlene was out in the community, there would be no hope for her."

Meanwhile, advocates for the disabled say the state is already far behind on its timetable to move people out of institutions. Brian Cox, executive director of the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council, said he would like to have seen the state devise a plan to close Rosewood over two years, spreading out the cost.

"Why are we not proceeding?" asked Cristine Marchand, executive director of the Arc of Maryland, a nonprofit advocacy group. "We are so far behind already."

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