New owner, philosophy at mental health facility

State pleased after almost closing Shore youth center

March 15, 2007|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,Sun Reporter

A mental health facility for youths on the Eastern Shore that nearly lost its state license for inappropriate use of restraints and seclusion, among other problems, has a new owner, a new name and a new philosophy, changes that are being praised by the state officials who came close to shutting the center down last year.

Under new owner Potomac Ridge Behavioral Health System of Rockville, staff members at the former Chesapeake Youth Center, a residential treatment center in Cambridge, are no longer permitted to use leather restraints and must work with patients to avoid seclusion, said Marie McBee, the facility's vice president.

"Our treatment philosophy is very positive and relationship-oriented," said McBee, who also manages a Potomac mental health facility in Anne Arundel County.

The state forced Dr. Marc Fishman, who then owned the Cambridge facility, to contract with a Texas-based mental health management firm in February 2006 in hopes of resolving problems, but several months later there still were concerns about patient safety, said Wendy A. Kronmiller, director of the state Office of Health Care Quality.

In May, the state discovered that a 17-year-old girl was kept in seclusion for more than a week and that the staff failed to stop a 16-year-old girl from attempting suicide.

In June, the state notified Fishman that he would lose his license unless he sold the facility. He soon entered into talks with Potomac, which Kronmiller said has a good record of serving youths with mental illnesses.

Members of the Potomac team arrived at the Cambridge facility in August to begin the transition, and the sale was completed in early September, said Kronmiller.

"The difference has been night and day," said Kronmiller, referring to the change in ownership of what is now called Potomac Ridge Behavioral Health System, Eastern Shore. "We have had positive feedback from mental health experts on the Eastern Shore, and we are really pleased with how this situation has evolved."

Kronmiller said state health officials were pleased when Potomac expressed interest in purchasing the Cambridge facility because there was concern that the Eastern Shore might lose much-needed mental health services.

Since taking over the former Chesapeake Youth Center, McBee said, Potomac has concentrated on recruiting a new management team and staff members, and on training holdover staff members. She said that about 80 percent of the center's 115 staff members have completed training since December. Rather than restraints and seclusion, staff members have been instructed to build relationships with youths and to treat them with respect and dignity, McBee said.

"We begin intervening immediately, as soon as we see a potential problem," said McBee. "If a child is pacing, we ask, `What is it that you need?' They say exactly what they need, whether it be a place to be alone or some music to calm them."

Kronmiller's staff noted problems at the Cambridge facility in several reports in the summer and fall of 2005, including patients who were not receiving the proper dosages of medication or being regularly monitored by a physician. They also noted that some youths were being cruelly punished. In one case, a girl was forced to wear nothing but a paper gown for several days.

The facility has a capacity of 59 boys and girls in two residential units, but the girls unit, which had the most problems, has been shut down until an undetermined date, said McBee.

The boys unit is serving about 17 youths, she said, a number that will increase with new referrals.

A smaller unit for youths with acute mental illnesses has room for 15 people

Next month, the facility will begin working with low-functioning youths ages 13 to 16 who need special education and mental health services, McBee said. The program will be "one-of-a-kind" in the state, she said.

"We are very optimistic that we will be able to make some in-roads with this group of children," she said.

The Potomac health system is a member of Adventist HealthCare of Rockville, the mission of which is to "demonstrate God's care by improving health of people and communities through a ministry of physical, mental and spiritual healing," according to a statement released by the company. The Adventist group manages a number of facilities in the Baltimore-Washington area.

lynn.anderson@baltsun.com

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