Families oppose center's closing

Some relatives of Rosewood clients aim to fight move

January 21, 2008|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,Sun reporter

Distraught family members of residents at Baltimore County's Rosewood Center said yesterday that shuttering the facility for the disabled would be traumatic for their loved ones.

Before a meeting with Rosewood administrators at the facility's Owings Mills campus, a group of nearly 30 people met in private to decry the center's closing. Last week, Gov. Martin O'Malley ordered the center to close within 18 months, citing reports of abuse, neglect and mistreatment.

Some relatives and advocates have complained for years about abuses at Rosewood. A Maryland Disability Law Center report last year detailed injuries, neglect and residents being secluded, including one who was locked in a room for 23 hours. Last month, the state Office of Health Care Quality found residents were given incorrect medication, improperly restrained and were allowed to assault other residents.

The state has barred new admissions at Rosewood three times in the past year, and the center nearly lost its federal funding because of poor conditions. A Rosewood official would not allow a reporter to attend yesterday's meeting, and others officials did not return calls seeking comment.

Concerned relatives said that while they have heard rumors that the facility might shut its doors, they did not learn of O'Malley's decision until reports in the media Tuesday.

"You know how I found out - from watching the news. I didn't even get a letter about this until Thursday," said Mary Ann Janssen, of Delta, Pa., whose 38-year-old daughter Susan Gurbelski is mentally retarded. "This is her home. It's been her home for 35 years. That's why I'm fighting."

O'Malley's announcement last week drew both cheers and jeers from advocates of the disabled. Those in favor of the center's closing say moving residents to a community setting would provide more freedom and independence.

But other relatives were firm yesterday, saying their loved ones were well cared for and that any change would upend the lives of a fragile population that relies on routine.

Sharon Anthony of Sparrows Point said her youngest sister Tammy Dorsey, 46, has structure and security at Rosewood. Dorsey, who is mentally retarded, looks forward to outings with her caretaker, who takes her to lunch, to the hair salon and for manicures, Anthony said. Dorsey also enjoys her job at Rosewood's workshop, where she assembles plastic containers.

A group home, where Dorsey lived before coming to Rosewood 16 years ago, is Anthony's worst fear.

"We tried it, a group home in Baltimore, and she ran away," said Anthony. "A woman ended up finding her walking around by herself on Harford Road."

During another incident at the group home, an administrator fractured her sister's ankle when trying to restrain her, Anthony said.

"We had to insist we take her to the hospital," Anthony said. "It was unbelievable."

For many of the residents, Rosewood has been the only home they have known, relatives said.

Marietta Bathgate of Rodgers Forge, whose daughter Sandra has been a Rosewood resident since 1974, said years ago that some Rosewood residents were sent to group homes but were later returned.

"They've tried that, but it didn't work," said Bathgate, who said she was one of a handful of relatives who met with O'Malley an hour before he announced the facility's closing. "My daughter has had injuries, she's had falls, but it's not the fault of the people who care for her."

Other relatives were suspicious of the state's motives, characterizing the closure as a land grab of the facility's sprawling 400-acre campus.

"It's probably the most valuable piece of property the state can get rid of," said Marcia Roof, whose brother-in-law Kenneth Roof has been a Rosewood resident for 44 years. "Then the governor can say, `Look at all the money I brought to the state.'"

Roof called the care her brother-in-law has received "excellent," and blamed state administrators for failing to maintain the facility, referring to peeling paint and dingy building facades.

"For the last four or five years, we've heard rumors of a closing, and for the last four or five years they let this place go to pot," she said. "You can see the lack of maintenance - just look around. But it's their responsibility to fix it."

Rosewood opened in 1888 and at its peak housed nearly 3,700 people. About 150 disabled people live there today.

Administrators told relatives that they could transfer their loved ones to similar state-run facilities, but noted there is not room for everyone, said Larry Yost.

"So what about the rest?" said Yost, whose 52-year-old son has lived in Rosewood nearly his entire life. Yost said he hopes to rally more relatives to push for Rosewood to remain open. "If we can get enough people, we can do it."

kelly.brewington@baltsun.com

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