After the release this week of another report of persistent trouble at the Rosewood Center for the developmentally disabled, the secretary of the state health department said yesterday that his agency will redouble its efforts there but that he would not, at this time, close the Owings Mills facility.
"The first and most important message is that the conditions that were detailed in the report are absolutely unacceptable," John M. Colmers, secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said in an interview. "They are unacceptable to me, and they would be unacceptable to any person reading them. The first step, therefore, is to focus attention in the limited time that we have to develop a plan of correction."
But advocates said enough is enough at the Baltimore County campus, which has been beset by problems with resident care.
A 160-page document made public Thursday by the Office of Health Care Quality, which is part of Colmers' department, detailed problems ranging from the inability of the staff to control aggressive residents to missed feedings of intubated residents.
Brian Cox, executive director of the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council, said Gov. Martin O'Malley needs to step up. Cox noted that since taking office in January, O'Malley has closed other state complexes that seemed beyond repair: the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup and Bowling Brook Preparatory School.
The state's disabled community deserves the same consideration, Cox added.
"I think that it's clear that there needs to be a commitment by the governor to close Rosewood Center," he said. "This has not just been going on for a year. This has been going on for year after year. How can anyone read the report and say that facility can be fixed? That makes me question whether the state values the safety and security of our most vulnerable citizens."
Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for O'Malley, said the governor believes Colmers is making the appropriate moves to improve resident care at Rosewood and to address the building's physical failings.
The governor does not believe it's necessary to close Rosewood at this time, Abbruzzese said.
"The governor is very concerned about the conditions at Rosewood and has spoken with Secretary Colmers and is confident that the department will take the steps necessary to reform this facility," Abbruzzese said.
The Office of Health Care Quality, which conducted the review during a week last month, imposed a ban on new admissions to Rosewood. If the center does not meet federal standards - it's failing seven of eight criteria - Rosewood would lose its federal funding by July.
The office also requires the hiring of an independent monitor, who would be at Rosewood 25 hours a week, starting next month.
The review found that stray objects, such as a razor blade, batteries and screws were left lying about, easy targets for residents to put in their mouths.
Staff members did not take steps to protect other employees or residents from a client with a history of violent behavior. Also, a family was not informed of injuries after a resident suffered broken ribs from the Heimlich maneuver after choking on food. And nine of 14 patients who receive nutrition through tubes did not receive adequate feedings, nor were they given food at scheduled times.
Colmers said his staff and the Rosewood team are already trying to address the matters outlined in the report. He said one key to tackling these problems was to install a new administrator, Robert Day, who has been on the job only a few months, Colmers noted.
The secretary said that the facility's managers are looking whenever possible to place residents in other settings. Colmers said that the center used to house more than 200 people, but 165 live there now.
Colmers said Day is reorganizing the clinical staff "to ensure that there is more continuity of treatment for individuals." He also said Day's team is working to get behavioral plans drawn up for residents, a long-neglected element of their care.
He said Rosewood's physical problems are being addressed. And he noted that the department will comply with a General Assembly request for individual evaluations of the appropriate placement for every resident in Rosewood. The report is due Dec. 31.
"We are in the midst of that process," he said, "we will continue it and complete it."
Sun reporter Liz Kay contributed to this article.