Baltimore County's Rosewood Center, which has been home to some of Maryland's most severely disabled residents for more than a century, will close within the next 18 months after a string of reports detailing sometimes gruesome cases of abuse and neglect.
Gov. Martin O'Malley's announcement on the steps of Rosewood's administration building yesterday drew a mix of cheers and boos from advocates for the disabled who stood nearby.
Those who have pushed for shuttering the center argued that community settings provide more freedom and independence for the disabled, but many of Rosewood's workers say its closing will traumatically disrupt the lives of its residents, some of whom have known no other home. The workers said reports of abuse have been exaggerated.
The state's plan also raises a major question for the surrounding Owings Mills community: What will happen to the center's 300-acre grounds, one of the largest potentially developable parcels in the county?
Rosewood opened in 1888 and at its peak, housed nearly 3,700 people. About 150 disabled people live there now, some of whom were sent by the courts after they were found incompetent to stand trial.
O'Malley said he worries how some residents will adjust to the change but decided to close Rosewood after consulting with health care experts.
"The decline of this facility is not something that happened recently. It's a decline that has happened in the course of many decades," O'Malley said. "To turn around that sort of decline, it was my decision, on balance, after a lot of consideration ... that we can do a better job of providing the service in different settings than here in Rosewood."
Last month, the state Office of Health Care Quality reported 130 incidents of "abuse, neglect, mistreatment and injuries of unknown origins" in a two-month period. The state has barred new admissions at Rosewood three times in the past year, and the facility has been in danger of losing federal funding because of poor conditions.
The report detailed how residents were given incorrect medication, were improperly restrained and were allowed to assault other residents or not given appropriate "behavior plans."
A Sept. 13 report by the state documented problems at Rosewood ranging from the inability of staff members to control aggressive residents to missed feedings of intubated residents.
Brian Cox, executive director of the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council, attended the news conference yesterday and praised the closing.
"We've been advocating this for years. If you look at the years of troubles this facility has had ... there is no answer short of closure that makes sense," Cox said.
But officials from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents Rosewood's 513 full-time workers, called the center's closing unnecessary.
Barry Chapman, president of the AFSCME Local 422, said he will monitor what happens with the center's employees.
O'Malley said he will work with the union to find jobs for the displaced workers.
"I have to wait and see if that promise is fulfilled," Chapman said.
Sherelle Daniels, who has been working at Rosewood since 1995, said many of its residents were heartbroken after hearing they would have to relocate. She described Rosewood as a place where the workers established lifelong bonds with tenants, often taking them on trips to grocery stores, banks and, at times, vacations outside of the state.
"It's not all what everybody says," Daniels said. "It's not like handcuffs and shackles that people want to seem like it is."
Elsie Platner said that her 48-year-old daughter has been at Rosewood for 14 years and that she has never seen any signs of neglect.
She said she is unsure whether she will put her daughter in a group home or try to care for her herself. "It really affects the families," she said. "We don't know what we're going to do."
But advocates for the closing said yesterday's decision was a long time in the making.
Representatives from the Maryland Disability Law Center said they issued a report in February that detailed seclusion, injuries and neglect of some patients, including one who was locked in a room for 23 hours.
MDLC attorney Rachel B. London said institutions such as Rosewood have become outdated.
London said about 22,000 developmentally disabled people live in Maryland and that less than 300 live in institutions. The state also runs institutions in Hagerstown, Cumberland and on the Eastern Shore.
"People should be able to live in their own communities. It's a civil rights issue," London said.
Health Secretary John M. Colmers said the state will form a transition team to oversee the relocation of patients.
The residents are expected to be released to guardians or placed in community settings such as group homes over the next 18 months.
State officials said the overwhelming majority of residents can live in community settings.