Coalition persists on closure of Rosewood

Activists want state to shift disabled to smaller facilities

October 11, 2007|By James Drew | James Drew,Sun Reporter

A coalition of advocates for the developmentally disabled tried to turn up the pressure yesterday on Gov. Martin O'Malley to close Rosewood Center in Owings Mills.

Several disabled activists in wheelchairs attempted to deliver a list of demands to the front gate of the governor's mansion in Annapolis but were turned back after a Department of General Services officer told them that they needed a permit to march.

At a rally outside the State House attended by about 50 disabled citizens, activists said the state should shift Rosewood residents into smaller facilities and homes in the community over a year to 18 months and then close the center for the developmentally disabled.

A Sept. 13 report by the state health department's Office of Health Care Quality documented problems at Rosewood ranging from the inability of staff members to control aggressive residents to missed feedings of intubated residents.

The review found that stray objects such as razor blades, batteries and screws were left lying about, easy for residents to put in their mouths.

A statement released yesterday by the Developmental Disabilities Coalition to O'Malley said a small number of Rosewood residents who have been committed by courts and are "very dangerous to the public" should be moved to a "small residential program that is not based in the community."

"Individuals should only enter, and remain in, this program when professional risk assessment determines they cannot be thoroughly assessed or served in a less-restrictive manner," the statement said. The coalition said there should be 15 to 20 slots for that small residential program.

The coalition includes People on the Go of Maryland, the Maryland Disability Law Center and the Maryland Association of Community Providers.

On Sept. 21, group members asked to meet with O'Malley to discuss conditions at Rosewood. O'Malley replied in an Oct. 1 letter that he wanted to meet with the coalition but could not because of his "busy schedule." The governor referred the meeting request to Catherine Raggio, secretary of the state Department of Disabilities.

An aide to Raggio said she is trying to arrange a meeting with the coalition and John C. Colmers, secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which oversees the facility.

But Gayle Hafner, a Towson resident and attorney who is disabled, said the decision to close Rosewood rests with O'Malley, not Raggio or Colmers.

Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for O'Malley, has said the governor believes Colmers is making the appropriate moves to improve resident care at Rosewood.

The governor's deputy chief of staff, Peggy Watson, met with members of the Developmental Disabilities Coalition on Aug. 28 to hear their concerns, Abbruzzese said.

But disabilities rights activists said they want to meet with O'Malley himself.

"Silence is deafening while people continue to have their rights violated and conditions at Rosewood are deteriorating by the day, by the month," said Ken Capone, who has cerebral palsy and lives in Prince George's County.

The review by the Office of Health Care Quality said staff members did not take steps to protect other employees or residents from a client with a history of violent behavior. Investigators have documented several incidents in which staffers failed to stop patient-on-patient violence.

If the center does not meet federal standards, it will lose about $17 million in federal funding for annual operations by July.

Robert Day, who became the center's director in late May, has said the state has provided "intensive training" to Rosewood staff and made several changes, such as assigning workers to specific housing areas instead of shuttling them around.

Colmers said yesterday that an official response to the report by the Office of Health Care Quality is under way.

"Foremost in this plan is a safe environment for our clients, followed by appropriate individual programs implemented by trained professionals," Colmers said in a written statement.

As of yesterday, there were 166 residents at Rosewood, 31 of whom the state refers to as "forensic" because they have been referred by the judicial system.

Colmers said the department is working with the judicial system to examine options for housing forensic residents.

"Anyone who talks about closure of Rosewood understands you cannot talk about that without having a plan for how you provide services for folks who are there as a result of court action. That has to be addressed," he said.

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