Sheppard Pratt's recent surprise announcement to put what the hospital calls an "opulent" treatment center for "affluent" individuals with substance abuse and mental health concerns in a dense lane of modest homes in Ruxton has been a disaster. Sheppard Pratt's "outreach" has failed completely to match the sense of community that the giant hospital has received from its neighbors over the last several decades. It is impossible to greet the news of the hospital's "Retreat Center" expansion into our residential neighborhood as anything but shocking. The news was delivered to us in the presence of armed security officers and chilling legal notices from lawyers explaining that our opposition to their plan could land us in front of a federal prosecutor. There has been no attempt at a real dialogue with the community.
The fact that Sheppard Pratt suddenly announced its plans to put a "group home" in our neighborhood right after the close of this year's Maryland General Assembly session has further limited our community's voice in this discussion. Additionally, Sheppard Pratt President and CEO Dr. Steven Sharfstein's decision to locate his "group home" in our residential community is ultimately licensed and regulated by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which is headed by his son, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein. Both Sharfsteins are impeccably credentialed and known for their integrity, but the hospital's miscalculated roll-out created an initial perception that our neighbors will never get a fair shake, and these circumstances have only reinforced that perception.
Contrary to the recent Sunpaper editorial ("Discrimination in Ruxton," April 25), the community's objections to the "group home" are not based on our fear and intolerance of those who suffer from mental illness. Rather, we object to the fact that our new "neighbors" will consist of an ever-changing roster of transient residents who will stay for a short period of time and will have no financial or emotional ties to the community.
We believe that the exemption for allowing group homes in single family-zoned areas is for the public purpose of enabling those with mental illness to live in communities to the same extent that they would be allowed if they were not mentally ill. The current proposal from Sheppard Pratt for short term stays in an opulent "retreat" that is rumored to cost patients upwards of $30,000 per month (no insurance accepted) does not fit that definition.
This "group home" is a hotel or a boarding house for out-of-towners who have their own homes located out of state, for the most part.
This is not an issue about access and patients. It is about profits. The "retreat" will generate millions in new revenue for Sheppard Pratt. The fact is that the elective service that Sheppard Pratt provides and advertises in The New Yorker could occur in many other places with less of an impact on a neighborhood, including on its pedestrian-oriented campus that is so close to the amenity-rich Towson core. Mass transit, shopping, and grocery stores are all within a mile of the private campus.
Sheppard Pratt has never once answered the community's questions about why this treatment needs to take place in a neighborhood — ours or any other. The fact that Sheppard Pratt would like to extend the profitable, full pay, no insurance stays of its out-of-town clientele is understandable. That they intend to do it by placing it in a densely populated, single-family residential zone is not.
Ruxton's resilience stems from its deep history of community action and engagement. Our neighbors have demonstrated this core value again and again: when the government attempted to put the proposed I-83 spur through our neighborhood, when we fought for a sewer line to stop the region's pollution from streaming into Lake Roland, and when we worked together to improve the polluted Robert E. Lee Park. Even the businesses in our community, which we all frequent, have been the object of community action in order to limit increased traffic and aesthetic damage, and to maintain the small village-like feel of our neighborhood.
Our history of activism has taught us that communication is critical to community well-being. Sheppard Pratt has, in every way, failed to provide meaningful two-way communication with its neighbors. Both the hospital and the community have the minds and means to create a solution. But the hospital's steamroller, attack-the-community approach has left the our legitimate policy concerns completely unheard. And though Sheppard Pratt has not offered us a process to communicate and raise concerns, our community will engage nonetheless.
In the emphatic words of our community namesake and Revolutionary War patriot, Captain Nicholas Ruxton Moore: "No Retreat!"
Tom Costello and Marion Knott are Ruxton residents and directors of No Retreat, Inc., a non-profit community organization founded in response to Sheppard Pratt's plans. Their emails are email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.