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Rally aims to aid care facility

Families of residents at the Rosewood Center, an Owings Mills institution for developmentally disabled people, will hold a rally tonight in an attempt to persuade the state not to close the facility.

The Maryland General Assembly's budget committees have asked the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to recommend by November one of its four institutions for closure. Rosewood families, employees and community members suspect the health department will recommend that their 115-year-old institution be closed.

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Many advocates for the disabled want the state to close all its institutions, saying they violate the civil rights of developmentally disabled people by unnecessarily segregating them. State officials, too, believe they can care for all developmentally disabled people in small group homes.

Even if the state does not decide to close Rosewood now, it will cease to exist eventually if the current policy of not admitting any new residents continues.

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Rally organizers, including the national group Voice of the Retarded, hope to sell the state on their plan to use Rosewood as a resource center to train group-home caregivers, to provide medical care to group-home residents when they are ill and to maintain care for the current residents. They also hope the state will lift its freeze on admissions.

But national trends are working against them.

Federal law requires states to serve the disabled in the "least restrictive" setting possible. Nine states plus Washington no longer have any institutions.

Rosewood has 205 residents, down from its peak of 2,744 in 1970. Forty of the remaining residents are suspected of committing major crimes, and the state is making plans to transfer them to a more secure facility.

Most other Rosewood residents are developmentally disabled or have severe behavior problems. Many are middle-aged and have lived there since they were young children, and their families fear they would not survive outside an institution.

Family members are particularly troubled because the possible closure is a budgetary decision.

"Fifty years ago, we put everybody in institutions like Rosewood. We know all those people didn't belong there," said Vicki Almond, chairwoman of the Rosewood Citizens Advisory Council and the rally's lead organizer. "Now we're going to the other extreme, saying everybody can live in the community. Neither one of those scenarios is correct."

Almond's goal is to provide a choice between institutions and group homes - not to keep Rosewood open at the expense of one of the state's other three institutions in Hagerstown, Cumberland and Salisbury.

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Rosewood has the largest population of the four, so closing it would go the furthest in meeting the state's goal of moving everyone into community-based settings. It also could potentially save the state the most money, depending on the cost of residents' transition to group homes.

The Maryland-based national groups, the Arc and TASH, are among those that want all institutions closed.

TASH executive director Nancy Weiss said those with such disabilities do well in a community setting.

The rally is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in the gymnasium at Rosewood, 200 Rosewood Lane in Owings Mills.


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