Baltimore Sun

Proposal targets Rosewood Center

A Prince George's County delegate is sponsoring legislation to move ahead with the closure of the Rosewood Center in Owings Mills, despite a recommendation from the state health department to wait.

With 209 residents, Rosewood is the largest of the state's remaining institutions for people with developmental disabilities.

A bill introduced last week by Democratic Del. James W. Hubbard would close Rosewood by June 30, 2006.

Hubbard previously sponsored legislation to close another institution, the Great Oaks Center in Silver Spring, which shut its doors in 1996. He said former Great Oaks residents are thriving in community settings - a conclusion challenged by some residents' families but supported by many advocates for the disabled.

Whether to close Rosewood has been the focus of intense debate between residents' families, who believe their loved ones would not survive anywhere else, and activists who say that institutions violate the civil rights of the disabled by segregating them unnecessarily.

Hubbard's legislation would use $2.5 million from a community services trust fund to help defray initial closing costs.

Last month, the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a report figuring the first-year cost of closing Rosewood at $7.5 million. The report concluded that if the state is to close any of its institutions, Rosewood should be the one. Nevertheless, it said closing any institution is too costly an undertaking in the state's current fiscal climate.

A hearing on Hubbard's legislation has been scheduled for March 10 before the House Health and Government Operations Committee.

Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, whose district includes Rosewood and who heads the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, said she does not envision the legislation passing because of the cost of closure.

Hollinger said she expects the state to continue moving institution residents to small group homes and other community settings whenever possible. The state's goal is to eventually move all such residents into the community.

Hubbard's legislation says Maryland is far behind schedule: The state identified 299 people who would leave Rosewood and the state's other three institutions by summer, yet projections show only 159 people will have been discharged by then. Together, the institutions have a population of 404.

Kristen Cox, director of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s Office for Individuals With Disabilities, said it is premature for the governor to take a position on Hubbard's legislation.

One issue contributing to the health department's recommendation to give Rosewood a temporary reprieve: The institution houses between 40 and 50 court-committed residents accused of serious crimes. The state plans to transfer those residents to a new facility on the grounds of the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, a maximum-security psychiatric hospital in Jessup, but construction money is on hold. Meanwhile, the residents will stay at Rosewood.

While closing Rosewood would save the state money in the long term, "you don't start saving money until the last resident is gone and the land is disposed of," Health Secretary Nelson J. Sabatini said last month.

Hubbard said the closure should proceed regardless.

"We shouldn't be holding those who should be moved to the community hostage because it has 40 court-ordered patients," he said.