Rosewood warned of funding cutoff

Advocates for disabled to use state's report to show hospital should be closed for good

Sun Exclusive

February 01, 2007|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,Sun reporter

The future of the state's largest residential facility for profoundly disabled adults is increasingly uncertain as state regulators again warned that they intend to cut off essential federal funding for the Rosewood Center because its staff has repeatedly failed to protect residents involved in violent episodes.

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene also issued an immediate, month-long ban last week on all new admissions at the 300-acre campus in Owings Mills.

At a news conference today, advocates for the disabled plan to use the state's report and reiterate their call to close Rosewood for good.

"These findings and others detailed in this report demand leadership from state officials to finally bring an end to segregating individuals into this large, expensive congregate setting," the Maryland Disability Law Center concludes in a report provided to The Sun and set to be released publicly in Annapolis today. "Our call to close Rosewood joins the demands from others across the state, with [at] least 16 advocacy groups taking a stand on closure."

The announcement comes after a series of state investigative reports and warning letters this month found that time and time again, employees at the state-run facility for the extremely and chronically disabled knew about - but failed to investigate fully - abuse of residents by other residents as well as residents who harmed themselves.

Incidents included a 22-year-old patient with a long history of violence who was allowed out of the sight of a staff member to steal a knife on a field trip and stab another Rosewood resident in December. In another case, a woman removed all of her toenails, but Rosewood workers didn't inform a doctor of the self-mutilation for more than two weeks.

Rosewood caretakers repeatedly failed to prevent patient-on-patient violence and neglected to create or modify residents' plans for effective care, according to the health department's report. Of the 77 reports of violence or neglect at Rosewood lodged between October and January and reviewed by state investigators, staff members failed to take any corrective action in 26 cases.

"It was determined that the facility failed to ensure that individuals are free from abuse, neglect and mistreatment and that the potential for harm existed," state health department investigators concluded in a Jan. 18 report.

Weary from months of critical state reports and widespread staff turnover, officials at Rosewood conceded yesterday that despite reforms, more employee training was necessary to promote patient safety. They intend to submit another plan to address the state's concerns, a move that could stave off the threatened cut to Rosewood's federal funding.

Alexis M. Melin, a regional director who oversees Rosewood for the state Developmental Disabilities Administration, placed the blame in part on critical staff shortages: Rosewood has 30 vacancies in its residential unit alone.

Finding new employees is difficult, but processing them at Rosewood might be even more problematic, officials said. A single employee mans the center's entire personnel department.

"We do not have a personnel director. We do not have a deputy director. And we do not have a personnel assistant," Melin said.

She said the center also lacks a quality assurance director. Rosewood's director of psychology, Melin said, is leaving next month.

The future of Rosewood has long turned on a fundamental debate over the care of the severely disabled: Should most disabled people stay in the dwindling number of large, state-run, residential centers or should they be moved to smaller facilities and homes in the community?

Many family members of Rosewood residents praise the care at the facility, saying that its court-committed residents with violent criminal histories are at the root of the center's problems.

"The advocates of across-the-board deinstitutionalization have seized on recent incidents at Rosewood to rationalize their agenda of involuntarily relocating residents of Maryland's residential facilities, regardless of the best interests of the residents and their families," W. Marshall Rickert of Cambridge wrote in an opinion piece in The Sun last month.

Rickert is the guardian of his disabled brother, who lived at Rosewood for almost 30 years.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Gov. Martin O'Malley said that the governor did not yet have a position on whether Rosewood should be shut.

Calamitous events at Rosewood over the past year have only made the debate more pitched, as advocate groups pushed the state to take action.

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

Rosewood's future appeared especially dire in September, when state investigators first threatened to pull almost half the center's funding.

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