Rosewood rebuked (again)

September 26, 2007

The latest news out of the Rosewood Center in Owings Mills is depressingly familiar: grim and unsafe conditions, substandard medical care, neglect, inaccurate records and more, according to the most recent inspection. Maryland Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary John M. Colmers says the numerous shortcomings at the state residential facility for the developmentally disabled are "completely unacceptable" - and he's right.

Even if Mr. Colmers and Gov. Martin O'Malley can't yet commit to shutting the facility down, Rosewood ought to be better than this. So far at least, January's change of administration has not resulted in notable improvements there. The most recent survey calls for a ban on admissions and could lead to a loss of federal funds if immediate corrections aren't made.

Mr. Colmers says his staff is working diligently to correct these inadequacies and make life better for Rosewood's 165 residents. Perhaps, but such assurances have a familiar ring. Rosewood did not become a calamity overnight. Crumbling infrastructure, insufficient and often poorly trained staff, and the facility's dual and conflicting role as a treatment facility and a place to house criminal defendants (many of whom have been judged incompetent to stand trial) are long-standing problems.

What's needed is a long-term plan of action, not just short-term fixes, that puts the interests of Rosewood's population first and foremost. Under a law enacted this year, Mr. Colmers must evaluate residents to determine how each would be best served. By early next year, he's likely to recommend that the vast majority be placed elsewhere - with appropriate supervision and support services to protect and enhance their quality of life.

So while the O'Malley administration may say it has no immediate plans to close Rosewood, that should change with Mr. Colmers' report. It's hard to believe that most of Rosewood's residents wouldn't be better off elsewhere. Certainly, that's been the experience in other states that have closed similar facilities.

It makes little sense to spend $42 million each year on such an awful place, particularly if the residents are better served in the community. Let the savings go to creating a decent and secure facility for the court-ordered population, some of whom even the most skeptical advocates will concede should remain in the state's care.

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