Panel hears testimony on closing Rosewood

Proponents, foes of bill to shutter site for disabled appeal to lawmakers

March 11, 2004|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

Institutionalized for years because of her cerebral palsy and inability to speak, Missy Perrott used her computer to talk for her as she testified before a House of Delegates committee yesterday in Annapolis.

If legislators vote to close the Rosewood Center, an institution for the developmentally disabled in Owings Mills, "there will be dancing in the streets," said Perrott, who says she never should have been in an institution. She went on to have a career in disability rights advocacy and marry a nondisabled man after moving into her own home.

At the same time, relatives of Rosewood residents and Rosewood staff pleaded with delegates to leave the institution open, saying that a move to small group homes could kill the people who have lived there for decades.

"These are the most fragile of the disabled," said Harry Yost, whose son Larry - deaf, blind and profoundly retarded - has lived at Rosewood for 42 years.

About 50 people, evenly divided from both sides of the debate, testified at a two-hour hearing yesterday on legislation that would close Rosewood by June 30, 2006. Yost urged the members of the house Health and Government Operations Committee to visit the facility, to see all it has to offer, including a swimming pool, movie theater and medical clinic.

He and others said residents are comfortable there and deserve to be left alone.

"You have this great asset," Yost said. "Why destroy it?"

But those on the other side of the debate said people with disabilities should not be segregated from society under any circumstances, arguing that even the most complicated medical needs can be met in community settings.

With 209 residents, Rosewood is the largest of the state's four remaining institutions for people with developmental disabilities. In January, the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a report concluding that, if Maryland is to close another of its institutions, Rosewood, founded in 1888, should be the one. But it noted a $7.5 million first-year cost of closure in recommending a temporary reprieve for the facility given the state's current fiscal climate.

Last month, Del. James W. Hubbard, a Prince George's County Democrat, introduced legislation to move ahead with the closure. Then J. Lowell Stoltzfus, the Senate minority leader from the Eastern Shore, introduced competing legislation that would reopen admissions to institutions for people who want to live there.

Hubbard's legislation, the subject of yesterday's hearing, would use $2.5 million from a state trust fund for services for the disabled to help defray initial closing costs.

Hubbard previously sponsored legislation to close another institution, the Great Oaks Center in Silver Spring, which shut its doors in 1996. There was heated debate yesterday about how well former Great Oaks residents did in group homes.

Proponents of shutting Rosewood gave examples of former Great Oaks residents, including Perrott, who are thriving. Proponents of keeping it open gave examples of former Great Oaks residents who they said died shortly after moving.

Rosewood's fate has been uncertain for years. Residents' families fended off an attempt by the state to close the facility in 1989. But Maryland's goal is to eventually move all institution residents into community settings. Six of Maryland's 10 institutions for the developmentally disabled have closed during the past two decades, and the total population of Maryland's institutions has dwindled to 404.

Baltimore County Del. Dan Morhaim, whose district includes Rosewood, asked Hubbard yesterday how he planned to dispose of Rosewood's land, a sprawling campus in the heart of Owings Mills.

Hubbard responded that his bill isn't about land. "This is about freedom," he said.

Morhaim, along with Dels. Robert A. Zirkin and Jon S. Cardin, has introduced legislation that would prevent commercial development at the Rosewood site if the institution closes.

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