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Rosewood Center facing U.S. civil rights investigation

Justice SystemLaws and LegislationFamilyGovernment

The U.S. Justice Department haslaunched an investigation of thelong-troubled Rosewood Center todetermine whether conditions atthe state's largest facility for profoundlydisabled adults violate theresidents' civil rights.Although the institution is set toclose next summer, federal authoritieswill look into the treatment ofresidents, including safety issuesand medical care, along with plansfor their placement in the community,according to a letter sent to Gov.Martin O'Malley.A Justice Department spokeswomandeclined yesterday to discuss detailsof the investigation, but state officialssaid federal investigators haverequested numerous documentspertaining to policies, proceduresand behavior-management techniques,as well as meeting minutesand staffing organizational charts.Those officials said conditions atRosewood have improved significantlysince reports last year of seriousproblems at the Owings Mills facility.The reported problems includeda resident with a history of violencewho stabbed another resident with a knife he stole on afield trip, patients receiving inadequatenutrition from feedingtubes and a woman who did notreceive medical care for twoweeks after ripping off her toenails."I think they're responding to issuesthat were problematic thenthat are no longer problematic today,"said Michael S. Chapman, directorof the state's DevelopmentalDisabilities Administration.Justice Department officialshave not issued subpoenas orvisited the facility, but they mightvisit next month, Chapman said.The letter informing the governorof the investigation was sent lastmonth.In January, O'Malley announcedplans to close the 120-year-old facility, which housedabout 3,700 people at its peak. Today,127 live there, and administratorsare working closely withrelatives to move each one to asmaller environment where theycan receive the care they need,Chapman said.Virginia Knowlton, director ofthe Maryland Disability Law Center,which released a report lastyear detailing dangerous conditionsat Rosewood, said she wassurprised that the Justice Departmentwas beginning the investigationnow."It seems a little behind thecurve since the decision has alreadybeen made to close the facility,"she said. "Perhaps the purposeis to monitor the closingprocess and oversee that transition."According to the letter, the JusticeDepartment will investigatethe state's efforts to ensure compliancewith federal law and lookfor "systemic violations of constitutionalor other federal rights." Ifviolations are observed, the departmentwill issue written findings,recommend remedies, andprovide financial and technicalassistance to the state.Jamie Hais, a spokeswoman forthe Justice Department's CivilRights Division, said she was unableto comment on when the investigationis expected to be completed.Under the federal Civil Rights ofInstitutionalized Persons Act, theJustice Department may investigateallegations of abuse or neglectif the attorney general haspreviously notified state officialsof a problem in writing, suggestedcorrections and allowedstate officials "reasonable time totake appropriate corrective actions."In recent months, no significantproblems have come to light inthe state-mandated incident reportsthat Rosewood submits tothe Maryland Disability Law Center,Knowlton said. The JusticeDepartment has not askedKnowlton's office for information,although the center wouldbe glad to assist in the investigation,she said.The state's Office of Health CareQuality recently completed itsannual review of the facility, althoughthe results have not beenmade public, according to its director,Wendy Kronmiller. In September,her office released a 160-page report documenting numerousproblems including staffmembers' inability to control violentresidents, missed mealtimesand indications that some residentsrepeatedly choke on food.The facility was founded in 1888as the Asylum and TrainingSchool for the Feeble Minded andlater named Rosewood State Hospitaland Rosewood Center. Concernsabout treatment there goback many years.From the 1950s through the1970s, there were reports of rape,abuse, neglect, overcrowding andunsanitary conditions. One residentreportedly drowned in abathtub. A 1981 Justice Departmentreport found that residents"failed to receive minimally adequatecare."The population of residentsdwindled in recent decades asmore families chose to keep disabledresidents at home or placethem in smaller care centers.In January 2007, new admissionsto Rosewood were halted aftera resident was found to be inimmediate danger, and in Augustlast year, the facility was found tobe noncompliant in seven ofeight conditions of licensure.Some disability advocacygroups rejoiced when informedof plans to close Rosewood, butthe families of some residentsprotested, saying that their lovedones had been treated well.Elsie Platner, 82, of Severna Parksaid yesterday that she waspleased with the care her daughterreceived at Rosewood. Althoughher daughter was occasionallybitten or punched byother residents, the staff did thebest they could, she said.Platner said that in May shemoved her daughter, now 49, to ahome run by Catholic Charities inTimonium only because of Rosewood'spending closure."If it hadn't been for this, Iwouldn't have moved her for anything,"she said.Chapman said that conditionsat Rosewood have improved asthe staff has focused on caring forresidents while making other arrangementsfor them."You don't like for the JusticeDepartment to come into a facility,but we have to demonstratethat we are doing what we needto be doing to ensure [the residents']safety and welfare," hesaidjulie.scharper@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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