Rosewood's revocation

February 02, 2007

Maryland's troubled Rosewood Center is back in the spotlight. This time, state regulators are warning that the Owings Mills facility's Medicaid funding could be terminated if corrective action is not taken in the next eight days. That couldn't have been too much of a shock. The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has been warned about patient-on-patient violence and substandard conditions there for years.

With nearly 200 residents, Rosewood remains the state's largest residential treatment facility for the severely developmentally disabled. The center's problems are numerous - poor quality of care, chronic understaffing, incidents of neglect and a failure to keep residents safe from physical harm. The facility and its staff seem particularly ill-equipped to handle the 50 or so people who have been placed there by the courts (most because they are judged incompetent to stand trial).

Officials with the Maryland Disability Law Center, which this week renewed their call to close Rosewood and place most of its residents in smaller, community-based settings, are hoping DHMH's new secretary, John M. Colmers, and Gov. Martin O'Malley will take up their cause. Clearly, a decision concerning Rosewood's future has to be made soon.

At minimum, an alternative needs to be found to house the court-ordered population and ensure the health and safety of Rosewood's residents. This will cost money, particularly if it means building a more secure facility with properly trained staff to manage the forensic population. But it's evident that Rosewood can't fulfill its role as a treatment facility if it also must house accused (and, in a handful of cases, violent) criminals.

Placing the bulk of non-forensic residents in group homes is something that deeply troubles many families who have loved ones at Rosewood. They fear that such placements will deny their relatives the level of care and rehabilitative services that have been available to Rosewood residents.

But while those concerns are legitimate, they can be addressed - if a shutdown is properly managed and financed. What is needed is a comprehensive plan that ensures proper placement with appropriate educational, medical and other services. Mr. Colmers should make it one of his top priorities. A growing number of states have abandoned centralized institutional care as ineffective and costly. Maryland should, too.

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