Families fight for Rosewood

Md. to close center for the disabled

June 01, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

For the past 28 years, Michael Jarowski, 60, has lived at Rosewood Center, a state-run home for the severely disabled. His doctors note a history of seizures and "profound mental retardation." He wears a protective helmet, uses a wheelchair, does not speak and is totally dependent on the center's staff for all daily activities.

Jarowski and the other residents of the Owings Mills center might soon face a disruption to their lives. Gov. Martin O'Malley has ordered the closing of the center by June 2009. During the next year, state officials have promised families assistance in finding placements in community settings, such as group homes.

Disrupting his routine could be life-threatening, said his sister Joan Druso, one of several family members who met at the center's canteen yesterday to protest the closing.

"It would be like moving a 3-year-old who has known no other home," she said. "He can't make decisions. He can't report something wrong. He can't foresee anything. Michael is so passive that anyone could take advantage of him."

Families have hired an attorney, launched a "Save Rosewood" Web site and are planning a strategy to keep the center open.

"Rosewood is the known to so many of these residents," said Harry Yost, whose 52-year-old son, Larry, has lived at the center since he was 6. "The governor is asking us to put our children's lives on the line. You would think they are sending our children to palaces, but that's not what they are offering."

A few have visited potential group homes, which they found unsuited to the needs of those who require constant care.

"I could never have a relative of mine living in the places I saw," said Lee Wilhelm, whose 79-year-old uncle, John Ruff, has lived at Rosewood for nearly 70 years. "There really is no other facility with a capacity to handle his daily living. He is severely retarded and needs help with everything, and he gets that at Rosewood."

Druso frequently visits the center unannounced and has always found the one-story brick cottage where Jarowski lives in good order and his care excellent, she said.

After looking at two possible group home sites, recommended by a state consultant, Druso said she has little faith in the state's promises. One potential site - a dilapidated home in Hamilton with an eviction noticed posted on its front door - was not wheelchair-accessible.

"If the state worker had taken time to read Michael's file, she would have known he needs a wheelchair," Druso said.

Yost, 80, said the disabilities law is on the side of the families.

"The state can't do anything with our children unless we agree," Yost said. "We are going through due process. This is where we want our children."

Rosewood, which opened in 1888, sits on about 300 acres just off Reisterstown Road. At its peak, it housed nearly 3,700 people. Today, about 150 disabled people live there in the care of 513 full-time employees.

In December, shortly before the closing was announced, the state Office of Health Care Quality reported 130 incidents of "abuse, neglect, mistreatment and injuries of unknown origins" during a two-month period at Rosewood. 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 problems here are mere allegations," Yost said. "It could have been something as simple as a paper cut or a bruised finger. Look at the history of abuse and quality of care in group homes and you will know how good our children have it here."

The health care office oversees more than 1,300 health facilities in Maryland with a staff of about 25 inspectors. Incidents of reported abuse in licensed group homes during a 19-month period that ended Jan. 31 numbered nearly 5,000, including reports of broken limbs and deaths; about 300 of the reports were investigated.

"When I raised a complaint about a group home, the state said they can only monitor 17 percent of them," said Rosalind Gregory, whose 28-year-old son moved to Rosewood four years ago. "It's like giving people a license to neglect."

She has joined the effort to keep the center open.

"I am not just satisfied with Rosewood," she said. "The care here saved my son's life and subsequently my own. They have done so many things for my son here. One staff member broke his own ankle trying to save my son from falling."

Yost said at least 60 families oppose the closing. When the governor meets with them again in August, they plan to have their "Save Rosewood" strategy in place.

"I think the governor had really poor advice, when he made this decision," Yost said.

After the meeting, Druso dropped in on her brother. A staff member brought him to the cottage's community room. He smiled broadly when she greeted him. He gave her a firm hug and followed the sound of her voice.

"Michael has everything the way he wants it now," said Druso. "He is the happiest he has ever been, and he shows it."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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