The situation in Ruxton is full of complexities ("Discrimination in Ruxton," April 25). If representatives of Sheppard Pratt Health System are to be believed, Ruxton residents are a bunch of elitist snobs with no moral standing. In reality, the personal issues surrounding this are just the beginning. Put aside the obvious name-calling and look at the more important legal issues.
The heart of this issue lies around the misguided actions of Sheppard Pratt. Without question, Sheppard Pratt is a first-rate institution with exceptional staff and services. Unfortunately, their professionalism does not extend to their handling of situations outside their walls. From the onset of this fiasco, Sheppard Pratt officials have been intentionally stone-faced. They have been secretive and limited in their dealings with the community, and while promising "transparency," they have refused to answer many of the community's questions about their project. They have been condescending and even rude in discussions and taken a "you'll get over it and move on" attitude toward individuals and groups alike.
What's worse is their complete disregard for the true intentions of the Fair Housing Act. This civil rights law was designed to protect those who would otherwise not be allowed to live in certain neighborhoods. Now Sheppard Pratt, hiding behind this law, claims that their "affluent" clients searching for "opulent" settings in which to recover meet the law's standards. Hardly so, given that they clearly could afford to live in this setting or to be treated in the same manner in another setting, such as Sheppard Pratt's sprawling campus. Still worse, Sheppard Pratt is using the FHA to stop the neighbors from voicing their opinions by threatening them with legal action should they do so. I myself have been threatened with a letter from a local attorney. Not only do they hide behind a well-intentioned law, they use it to squelch any opposition to them or anyone involved.
In addition, Sheppard Pratt is using the FHA to place a business in a residential neighborhood under the guise of non-profit status. Again, this argument doesn't gel. Charging $2,000 per night to eight people 52 weeks per year comes to $5.8 million. Are we really to believe the board members didn't see those dollar signs in bright lights? This is absolutely a money-making business. Add to it the non-profit tax status that will limit the amount Sheppard Pratt puts back into the system and it gets worse. The hospital is building a glorified bed and breakfast and using their wealthy patients as guinea pigs. What happened to the idea of Sheppard Pratt helping the masses? Spending $1.5 million on a house that will help 5-to-8 uber-wealthy people? Imagine how many people of lesser economic means could really benefit from that money?
Finally, at the heart of the matter are the patients whom Sheppard Pratt will throw to the wolves in this tight-knit community. To say that people do not recognize their neighbors here is ridiculous. I have lived in Ruxton for 40 years and in Ruxton Heights for 13. I sit on my porch and know who is driving by, who is walking their dog and whose kids are heading to the store. That is what a neighborhood is — a community of people who know each other and want to be there. To put people who don't have, nor desire to have, a connection with the neighborhood is unfair to them as well as the neighborhood. How much can be gained from living in a neighborhood if you are not truly part of it?
To stereotype Ruxton and its residents is as discriminatory as stereotyping Sheppard Pratt's patients. To say we are elitists and not teaching our children about acceptance is ridiculous. This neighborhood houses people from all different walks of life. We have Section 8 housing (Ruxton Township) and mansions. We drive BMWs and clunkers. We send our kids to public, private and parochial schools. We have people with disabilities and addictions. We have teachers and CEO's. How that makes us elitist is beyond me. Clearly, officials at Sheppard Pratt did not take this into account when they set out to make a few more dollars. There is still time for them to learn a lesson about what it means to be part of a community.
Lisa Costello, RuxtonCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun