Become a digitalPLUS subscriber. 99¢ for 4 weeks.
News Opinion Editorial

Discrimination in Ruxton

Community meetings don't usually attract the disinterested or curious. The average person has a busy enough schedule, so such events tend to be packed with vocal opponents of whatever is being proposed.

At least that's the kindest explanation available to excuse the recent outbreak of community-based hysteria involving Sheppard Pratt Medical Systems' proposal to turn a Ruxton mansion in an upscale rehabilitation facility to help those under treatment for mental illness make a transition back to living at home.

Because if Ruxton believes their "family" neighborhood currently lacks eight people (the most that will ever occupy the planned rehab center) diagnosed with a mental illness, then they are — to put it mildly — delusional. The only difference here is that the handful of folks who would be living on Labelle Avenue would be supervised and receiving treatment.

How dare opponents compare the neighborhood's "plight" to the recent controversies involving group homes in communities like Woodlawn and Randallstown. What arrogance. Those facilities generally serve juvenile delinquents who have committed serious crimes, and the communities involved have been forced to embrace a lot more than one or two of them.

Sheppard Pratt is a highly respected private, non-profit mental health care provider. Its main campus on Charles Street is less than two miles from the site in Ruxton. It's the kind of place where millionaires and celebrities often go when they are suffering from depression, bipolar disorder or a host of similar maladies.

No sexual offenders, no criminals, no people with a history of violence would ever be housed at the rehab center. Could the rest of Ruxton say the same?

It isn't as if the occupants would be poor or even middle class. These are self-paying customers. In other words, this is exactly where most Ruxton residents would want to go if they required mental health treatment.

This much criticism is probably deserved: Officials at Sheppard Pratt did not do a very good job of reaching out to the community. Proponents should have been talking to community leaders and local elected officials before they signed a contract on the property two weeks ago — if only to educate them on the nature of their plans.

Nevertheless, exactly where would the residents of Ruxton prefer such a transitional facility be placed? Name a residential area that isn't a "family neighborhood." It's clear some Ruxtonites simply don't want it in their own backyards, and that's just not a good enough excuse. Federal and state housing laws prevent discrimination against this sort of facility for a reason.

One of the tragedies of mental health care in America is the stigma and discrimination surrounding it. Yet a serious mental illness will affect one in four families, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It can't simply be shoved aside.

No doubt there are many in Ruxton who quietly have no problem with Sheppard Pratt's plans. They aren't launching Facebook pages of neutrality or tweeting their lack of anger in cyberspace or ferociously heckling their indifference at public meetings.

Still, this is a community filled with a lot of wealthy people who are accustomed to getting their way. When the Baltimore light rail system was built, they made sure a stop wasn't created in their neighborhood. The Ruxton Road exit from the Jones Falls Expressway has one way on and one way off to discourage non-local traffic.

But even they can't hide the reality of mental illness, which doesn't care that your spouse is a CEO or your family has an 8-figure stock portfolio. Perhaps local residents should do what one advocate for the mentally ill has suggested — take the time to meet the people who would be living at the facility and discover what their treatment is about.

If they do, it's not the executives at Sheppard Pratt but opponents who are likely to feel ashamed for their behavior. These are not outsiders to be feared, they are just people who are recovering from an illness, and they deserve the community's respect and tolerance.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Sun mischaracterizes Ruxton rehab house issue

    The Sun once again pulls out all the stops from its lofty editorial perch to totally mischaracterize issues with Sheppard Pratt locating a half-way house in Ruxton ("Discrimination in Ruxton," April 25). In the process, it also fails to address the very essence of the story.

  • Sun insults Ruxtonites' character

    Since when does a newspaper, through the power of the pen by liberal and biased editorial writers, have the gall to chastise law abiding and productive citizens for expressing their freedom of speech? ("Discrimination in Ruxton," April 25.) To insult these homeowners, taxpayers and community...

  • Bowing to North Korea's film critic
    Bowing to North Korea's film critic

    By most accounts, "The Interview," the comedy that revolves around a bumbling plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, is not high art but the sort of sophomoric, gross-out shtick that Hollywood produces in bulk these days. But most Americans will likely never be able to judge...

  • Welcome back, Caret
    Welcome back, Caret

    In selecting University of Massachusetts System President Robert Caret as its next chancellor, the University System of Maryland has kept up a tradition of leadership by those with deep ties to the state and its higher education traditions. Mr. Caret spent 29 years as a professor, dean,...

  • Good riddance, 113th
    Good riddance, 113th

    Imagine if you ran a business but you didn't tell your customers exactly what they would be charged for your products or services until nearly the end of the year. Well, you don't have to work your imagination too hard because that's essentially what Congress just did. In one of their last...

  • Torture is not a partisan issue
    Torture is not a partisan issue

    I have been researching interrogation and teaching military ethics to midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy for years. I looked forward to the release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the CIA interrogation program to answer some specific questions raised in the course...

  • Addiction services needed more than statistics
    Addiction services needed more than statistics

    It is so frustrating to read about policymakers and their obsession with identifying the "numbers of heroin users." While they're busy counting, addicts are dying while on waiting lists for treatment.

  • A compromise on Howard County nutritional standards?
    A compromise on Howard County nutritional standards?

    Lost in the noise of the debate over Howard County Government's nutritional standards regarding sugary drinks are a few key questions. First, when, if at all, should government act in response to growing evidence linking certain behaviors to premature mortality and increased health care...