Ruxton hue and cry similar to that heard about Project Home in 1983

May 03, 2011

I agree with Dr. Steven Sharfstein when he wrote, "We are all in this together" ("A teachable moment in Ruxton," April 27). It behooves us all not to forget it.

What is happening in Ruxton reminds me of what happened in 1983 in Baltimore County when I supervised a new program called Project Home for the Department of Social Services. It was established by the state to deinstitutionalize psychiatric patients from state hospitals and place them with families in the community. The hue and cry from some Baltimore County residents was very similar to those in Ruxton.

People were scared and rightfully so. After all, if these psychiatric patients were not harmful, why were they locked away in hospitals? That was over 25 years ago. Today, people who are hospitalized with mental illness spend only three to five days, often, in a general hospital. We have better treatment today than we did 25 years ago.

No one was ever hurt, robbed, or insulted by any of the over 100 patients who were discharged from Spring Grove Hospital Center while I was supervising Project Home. Most of the discharged patients were more fearful about living in the community than the residents who tried to keep them out. The mental health clients had social workers, psychiatrists and other professionals who dispensed their medication and monitored their behavior.

Several years later, a colleague and I started a private housing program, Housing Options, Inc. for psychiatric clients, some with addiction problems. We supervised the clients in an apartment complex in Towson. Few residents in the development knew there were people with psychiatric problems living there. Our clients ranged in age from 18 to 70. Some went to college, some attended day programs and even held jobs. They looked and acted like everyone else in the complex. Our clients never caused problems for any of the neighbors and I believe the same will be true for the residents of Ruxton. Just give them a chance!

Arlene Saks-Martin

The writer is owner of ARMEL, Inc. a care management company serving the geriatric population and adults with mental illness in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

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