Good Shepherd Services to close Baltimore County residential treatment program

Good Shepherd Services will close its residential treatment program

Good Shepherd Services will close its troubled residential treatment program for adolescents in Halethorpe after two state agencies decided to withdraw the children they had placed there.

The decision to withdraw the children followed moratoriums imposed late last year by the agencies on sending more youths to the Baltimore County treatment center. Good Shepherd was cited last year by state health regulators for not providing proper supervision after one patient reported being sexually assaulted and others showed signs of overdose after taking medicine stolen from a medical cart.

The state citations were disclosed in public records obtained by The Baltimore Sun in December.

The 49 children currently being treated at Good Shepherd will be moved to other facilities within 30 days, the agency said. The Catholic nonprofit's decision puts some 200 Good Shepherd employees out of a job and affects another 100 contract workers and vendors.

Good Shepherd leaders expressed frustration Thursday about their decision to shutter the 150-year-old program and said they had not been given an opportunity to work with the state to resolve the problems that led to the moratoriums by the Department of Human Resources and the Department of Juvenile Services.

"It's hard to fathom that state leadership and Good Shepherd leadership couldn't come together to ensure the long-term best interest of these children and their families," said Michele Wyman, Good Shepherd's president and CEO. "It's heartbreaking."

The Department of Juvenile Services, which contracted with Good Shepherd for mental health services for young offenders, rejected Wyman's claim that the agency had refused to work with the facility.

Since 2013, the department has enacted four moratoriums against Good Shepherd, including three last year. The moratoriums, which ranged from a couple of days to a few months, were lifted after resolving the issues that led to the action.

"The department's highest priority is the safety and security of the youth in our care and custody," Audra Harrison, the department's spokeswoman, said in a statement. "We will continue to work with Good Shepherd, families, stakeholders, and the state's other human service agencies to ensure a smooth transition and minimal impact on the youths' treatment."

The Department of Human Resources, which oversees the state's child welfare programs, including foster care, said Thursday that the safety and well-being of the youth it cares for is its main priority.

"We are transitioning our youth from Good Shepherd to new placements based on each of their specific needs," it said without elaborating on its reasoning.

After citing Good Shepherd for multiple problems last year, the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's Office of Health Care Quality gave Good Shepherd a "directed plan of correction" in January, a spokesman said. Such plans order providers to take corrective actions.

About two-thirds of the youths Good Shepherd treated were referred to the facility by the state Juvenile Services and Human Resources departments.

The agencies' decision earlier this month to withdraw the remaining children they had placed in the facility's care "thrust Good Shepherd into a financial corner," said the organization's chariman, William Buttarazzi.

"We are deeply saddened for the disruption this will cause to the care of the children and additional pain it will bring to their families," Buttarazzi said in a statement. "We are further saddened for the several hundred dedicated and loyal workers who will be adversely impacted by the state's precipitous actions."

Good Shepherd traces its roots in Baltimore to 1864 when the Catholic order of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, founded to help women and girls in crisis, opened the House of the Good Shepherd at Mount and Hollins streets in the city. It opened a second house in 1892 and moved to the current 70-acre location in Halethorpe in 1970.

In recent years, the organization provided troubled youth with residential as well as psychological, psychiatric, clinical and health services. There was a school on the grounds so the youths could sustain their education.

The residential program had been serving between 65 and 75 youths a day, but its ranks began to dwindle after the two state agencies stopped sending children and others were discharged as planned.

Wyman said the organization would have tried to continue operating with a reduced population if its leaders thought they would be able to work with the state agencies to make improvements. "If we'd been having some kind of meaningful discussion or conversation, we would have held on to hope this could be resolved," she said.

The program's closure means 200 employees — a range of support staff, social workers, medical professionals and kitchen and maintenance workers — will lose their jobs. Affected workers will stay on with the company for about two months.

As Good Shepherd winds down its residential treatment center, one of its cornerstone programs, leaders are re-evaluating the organization's mission. Good Shepherd plans to establish a task force within the next three months charged with determining how to shapeprogramming.

The organization has been considering a turn toward community-based programs, though Wyman didn't rule out the possibility of restarting a residential program in the fututre.

"I think the board sees this as an opportunity to pause and really take stock of the needs of the state, and the community we serve, and what they need," Wyman said.

sarah.gantz@baltsun.com

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