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State May Close Rosewood
Barbara Pash Assistant Editor
SEPTEMBER 12, 2003
The fate of Rosewood Center, the state facility for the developmentally disabled in Owings Mills, will be decided this fall. The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is in the process of deciding which of four such facilities around the state to close, possibly by November. Rosewood is one of the four under consideration.
At a meeting last Monday, Sept. 8, of the Reisterstown-Owings Mills-Glyndon Coordinating Council, an umbrella organization for area community groups known as ROG, advocates for Rosewood's closing faced tough questions from those who oppose the closing. Similar disagreements have arisen at the other three facilities under consideration: Potomac, in Hagerstown; Brandenburg, near Frederick; and The Holly Center, in Salisbury.
J.B. Hanson, a spokesman for the state health department, said that department head Dr. Nelson Sabitini is finalizing a report to be presented to the legislature and therefore felt it is not appropriate to comment on the issue. It is not known why the state has decided to close one of the facilities, what the criteria for closing is, and what will happen to the vacant facility.
Kelli Nelson, a member of the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council, a federally mandated agency that is part of the governor's office, said that a decision by Dr. Sabitini would reportedly be made before the General Assembly convenes in January. It was also her understanding that if Rosewood Center was closed, the facility would be sold and the proceeds put into a state fund that provides services in the community to the developmentally disabled.
Ms. Nelson, an advocate for Rosewood's closing, spoke at the ROG meeting along with officials and clients of ARC of Maryland and ARC of Baltimore. ARC is a private non-profit organization that provides services, including group homes, for develop- mentally disabled adults and children.
The possible closing of Rosewood has been a controversial issue since it was first raised at least two years ago. Rosewood Center originally consisted of about 600 acres of land. But as the state consolidated its services at the center, it began selling off parcels of land. The land is sold at fair market value and the money deposited into the state fund for the developmentally disabled.
Since 1997, the state's deacquisitioning process has declared about 300 acres of Rosewood "surplus," in preparation for being sold, although not all of that valuable acreage has been disposed of yet. Rosewood Center currently utilizes about 225 acres for the facility itself.
Rosewood land has gone for different uses, including the Irvine Natural Science Center, Ruxton Country School, the Maryland Economic Development Corp. and private developers.
The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore is seeking to purchase a 22-acre parcel of land for a Levindale Hebrew & Geriatric Center nursing home and possibly another 26-acre parcel for the newly opened Shoshana S. Cardin Jewish Community High School, currently housed at Temple Oheb Shalom in Upper Park Heights. Community activists are hoping to reserve a 54-acre parcel for a future Baltimore County public middle school.
In 1969, Rosewood Center was home to about 2,800 people. During the 1970s, the state began deinstitutionalizing residents and placing them in community settings like group homes. Currently, the center has about 250 residents and 700 employees.
Vicki Almond, immediate past president of ROG, estimates that about half of the residents are "forensic" patients, which she defined as people who have allegedly committed a crime but are not capable of standing trial.
At a public meeting last year, state officials said that they had no plans to close Rosewood, although the resident population and size of the facility might dwindle even more. At the meeting, parents of Rosewood patients pleaded with officials to keep the facility open, saying that their now-adult children, medically fragile and/or developmentally disabled, were not capable of living in group homes in the community.
"The patients' families are vehemently opposed to closing Rosewood," said Ms. Almond, who agrees with them. Chair of the Rosewood Center Citizens Advisory Board, Ms. Almond is forming a Rosewood Task Force to look into the matter independently.
"When you speak to Dr. Sabitini, he says they have no intention of closing Rosewood and that's true now," said Ms. Almond. "But if they close Rosewood in November, then it's too late."
Ms. Almond says proponents of keeping Rosewood open believe there should be a choice. "If people can live in the community, that's fine. But if not, they need to be in a setting like Rosewood," said Ms. Almond, who hopes to turn Rosewood into a community resource center. It would remain a residential facility but the staff would also be available for educating group home personnel.
"We don't want Rosewood to just sit there until all these patients have died off. We see it as a viable resource center," she said.
The issue is clouded by a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Olmstead case, in which an institutionalized Georgia woman sued to be given the opportunity to live in a community setting with adequate support. The court ruled in the woman's favor, saying that institutionalizing the developmentally disabled was a form of segregation. But the decision is apparently open to different interpretations and both advocates of closing Rosewood and those who want to keep it open cited the case.
Speaking at the ROG meeting, Brian Cox, of the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council, said that it was the council's belief that "all people with disabilities should live in the community." Mr. Cox said even medically fragile people can get the care they need.
"The community support system has evolved from years ago," he said. "We do not believe in segregating people in society."
Mr. Cox said that while Rosewood Center was built for a couple of thousand people, its closure was more a public policy issue than an economic decision. "We don't believe these institutions are necessary," he said, adding that should Rosewood close, residents would be placed in the community at a "gradual pace, making sure community support is in place."
State Sen. Paula C. Hollinger (D-11th) attended the ROG meeting. Ms. Hollinger commented that she has received a lot of correspondence on the subject. But she said people who want to express their opinion should do so with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who creates the state's budget.
"It's not a legislative decision. It's a budget matter and once [funding for Rosewood] is out of the budget, we can't put the money back," Ms. Hollinger said of the General Assembly.
A forum on the fate of Rosewood Center will be held Sept. 29 at 7 p.m. at the center, on Rosewood Lane off Garrison Forest Road. The public is invited to attend.