The Rosewood Center, founded in 1888 as an asylum for the "feeble-minded," closes its doors for good today and awaits an uncertain future - with an expansion-minded college expressing interest in its space.

Stevenson University would like to take over most of the sprawling Owings Mills campus, now filled with dilapidated buildings contaminated with lead and asbestos, and many neighbors of the facility say they'd be pleased to see the school move in.

"It is a completely neglected time bomb and an environmental cesspool," said state Sen. Bobby A. Zirkin, a Democrat who represents the area. "Most of the buildings have to be torn down, and the cost of remediating is staggering."

Gov. Martin O'Malley ordered the center closed early last year after the latest in a series of reports about substandard conditions.

Most of the 166 people who lived in Rosewood at the time of the announcement have been placed in group homes - a move that prompted its own controversies - while 13 people with criminal histories were moved to a newer, secure unit at Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville.

More than 500 employees have dispersed, some to jobs at other state facilities. Many retired or resigned and 97 were laid off, although state officials say they are still helping them find work.

Other than security guards, only three state employees will remain on the site, a maintenance crew for its 30 buildings.

Offer to other agencies

Now about 200 acres but once more than three times that size, the site presents enormous environmental challenges before redevelopment can occur, and it could be months before the state decides what to do next.

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene plans to offer the Rosewood property to all state agencies and seek comment from Baltimore County officials before considering proposals from the public.

For now, the campus remains vacant but for the ghosts of its troubled inhabitants. The once-stately stone-and-brick structures are overgrown with weeds and ivy and strewn with junked gurneys, file cabinets and wheelchairs.

Zirkin supports the proposal from Stevenson, whose campus next door has nearly doubled in physical size and enrollment in the past five years. The university, until recently known as Villa Julie College, is considering using the land for athletic fields that could help accommodate a football program being launched, a park, an amphitheater and a school of education.

No cost estimates

It may renovate the newer buildings and use them for classrooms. There's no price tag yet, and the school would likely seek state and federal assistance for environmental work.

"This is the only plan out there, but it is a great one," Zirkin said. "All of a sudden, Owings Mills could become a college town. The university could create a heart here for this community and take what has been a major problem and turn it into a community resource."

Glenda G. LeGendre, a spokeswoman for Stevenson, said the university is "very interested" in using about 150 acres of the property, including setting aside some of the land as open space.

In a letter to state officials, James J. Angelone, president of the Greater Greenspring Association, wrote that the university's proposal "is by far the best solution proposed for this site."

Rosewood once housed more than 3,000 people, most of them severely retarded and completely dependent on others for their care. The long wards and echoing hallways were often their home for life, but the conditions and care were frequently judged to be substandard.

'Badly neglected'

Over the course of decades, residents drowned in bathtubs when left unattended or froze to death after wandering out into the snow.

"It is a great thing for Maryland that this institution is closed," said Nancy Pineles, an attorney with the Maryland Disability Law Center, a watchdog group that promotes the civil rights of people with disabilities.

"It was a badly neglected facility that didn't serve any purpose any more."

In 2007, the law center called for state officials to shut down what it called "this flawed, outmoded institution," and noted findings by the state Office of Health Care Quality that conditions at Rosewood posed "immediate jeopardy to the health and safety of residents."

The 180-page survey noted abuses that included treating a deaf patient "with restraints to control his behavior" rather than a staff member skilled in American Sign Language, and found "sustained isolation of individuals with intellectual disabilities in rooms with no personal effects [that] shocks the conscience."

In December 2000, a resident died while being restrained, face-down on a floor, by Rosewood staff members "because he didn't want to go to the gym," said Pineles. She said the care quality office conducted a "limited investigation" but found no deficiencies and required no plan of correction.

Still, some family members fought to keep Rosewood open, hoping to preserve stability for patients. As it is, scores of patients are now adjusting to new environments.

Michael Jarowski, 61, lived at Rosewood for 32 years until January, when he moved to a group home in Carney that he shares with three others supervised by three staff members. Jarowski has a history of seizures and profound mental retardation. He wears a protective helmet, uses a wheelchair and does not speak.

"It is still a learning curve for his service provider," said his sister, Joan Druso.

The transition has been rough on Harry Yost, 81, who fought hard to keep Rosewood open. His 53-year-old son Larry, who cannot see, hear or speak, had lived there since childhood.

"Things starting going downhill this spring," Yost said, when the hospital lost all his son's clothes and replaced them with items that did not fit.

'They sent temps'

In April, Larry Yost was moved to a group home run by Catholic Charities. Officials at Rosewood had promised to send some of its staff to the home to help him with the transition, the same promise they made to Druso.

"They had laid off the people Michael was used to," she said. "They sent temps who really didn't care."

Harry Yost said his son "is doing all right, but I can't say he is better off."

Another former Rosewood resident, General Lee Oliver, 60, remains hospitalized after being severely beaten on June 10 by one of his caretakers at a group home in Windsor Mill, according to a Baltimore County police spokesman. The caretaker was arrested but has not been charged while the attorney general's office investigates the incident, Cpl. Michael Hill said.

While reports of beatings are uncommon, the level of care in some group homes has long worried relatives of the disabled.

"There is a great concern among Rosewood families that there will not be the kind of oversight and accountability a state facility provides," said Joelle Jordan, an advocate for a group of family members who were fighting last year to keep Rosewood open.

But the litany of incidents left state officials with little choice, they say.

'Inappropriate' to continue

"The magnitude of the problems there were such that to continue operations at Rosewood was inappropriate," said John M. Colmers, secretary of health and mental hygiene, who said the issue landed on his desk at the start of the O'Malley administration.

The group homes to which most of the Rosewood residents have been sent are being adequately supervised and monitored by visiting state inspectors, he said.

"Can we catch everything? No, we can't," Colmers said. "When bad things happen, the most important thing is to prevent them from happening again."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad