Rosewood strives for progress

Leaders hopeful after financial, legal woes

November 26, 2006|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,Sun reporter

It hasn't been an easy year for the Rosewood Center.

One resident sexually assaulted another last spring, even though a supervisor had been warned by her staff about the potential for trouble, according to internal state records released this month.

Over the summer, residents at the 300-acre compound in Baltimore County for the profoundly mentally disabled saw its former administration building set ablaze. When asbestos was discovered inside, demolition was postponed, and the crumbling building at Rosewood's entrance remains ringed by rubble.

Rosewood's future appeared especially dire in September, when state investigators threatened to pull almost half the center's funding. Rosewood staff members had not thoroughly investigated violent acts committed by patients against others and themselves, and then failed to come up with plans to protect the roughly 200 patients from future abuse and self-injury, according to the state report.

But officials at the Owings Mills college-like campus said in interviews last week that they've turned the corner.

"We have had significant challenges here, but we've received a great deal of help," said Alexis M. Melin, a regional director who oversees Rosewood for the state's Developmental Disabilities Administration.

Shortly after the state's report on Rosewood, its longtime facility director left, one of a string of recent departures. A corrective plan submitted by Rosewood officials lifted the threat to withhold federal funding, estimated at $17 million.

"We still do have concerns, but there is no longer an immediate jeopardy to individuals there," said Wendy Kronmiller, director of the Office of Health Care Quality at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

New training for Rosewood's staff is set to begin next week. An outside consultant, James C. Tolan, also conducted a top-to-bottom review of patient care and remains at Rosewood to oversee additional changes.

Tolan found that about one-third of the patients needed to have changes made to their care plans. In an interview last week, he said he could not say whether that number appeared high, adding that comparing Rosewood with other facilities was difficult because the type of care provided was too different from the three other centers for the mentally disabled in the state.

Recently, Melin stepped in to launch a nationwide search for a new director while reassuring patients, their families and Rosewood's staff that the center can continue to provide quality care.

Glenn M. Brown said he has already seen a change for the better.

"Of course I was concerned. I've had a daughter at Rosewood for 41 years," said Brown of Hyattsville, who serves as the vice president of the auxiliary at Rosewood.

Challenges at Rosewood remain. Its top leaders - the acting facility director, medical director and chief operating officer - have been in their positions less than a year.

The center has more patients than its budget funds - 204 versus 189 - as well as fewer staff than needed - 358 versus 380 - according to Melin. Its infrastructure is in need of substantial repair, though Melin said last week that several capital improvement projects are in the works.

Some parent advocates, including Brown, as well as state investigators, say they believe the court-committed population at Rosewood mixes uneasily with its longtime residents and poses security problems that the staff has not been trained to address.

Kenneth Fields, a direct-care worker with court-committed patients and a union representative at Rosewood, says he believes more needs to be done to protect staff members from violent outbursts.

"I don't think it's fair for them to place [court-ordered clients] at Rosewood and not give the staff training on how to deal with them. We're getting injured," said Fields, who recently returned to work after a Rosewood patient injured him. "There [are] a lot of people who are contemplating leaving. It's becoming frustrating for us, because Rosewood is a wonderful place."

But Melin said there are no immediate plans to close Rosewood or move the court-committed population, known as forensic clients, to another facility. In fact, she said, the number of patients sent to Rosewood over the past four years by judges has grown fourfold since 2002.

Founded more than a century ago as the Asylum and Training School for the Feeble-Minded, Rosewood housed 2,744 people with profound mental retardation and other developmental disabilities by the 1970s. Today, only a fraction remain, with 57 patients who are committed to Rosewood by the courts because they are believed to be incompetent to stand trial.

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