A state employee labor union has proposed slimming down operations at the Upper Shore Community Mental Health Center to save the Chestertown facility from being closed because of budget cuts.

Gov. Martin O'Malley said he would review the proposal from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, but that any decisions would be made in the context of $300 million in budget cuts that are expected later this month. O'Malley, a Democrat, had proposed shuttering the state-run psychiatric hospital in a previous round of budget cuts.

But the prospect of Upper Shore's closure provoked an outcry from health care workers and the rural community where the hospital cares for nearly 200 patients a year and there are few other options for care. Some Upper Shore workers traveled to Annapolis Wednesday.

Tonya Rider, assistant to the director of nursing, said it was "pretty cold and shocking" to learn in August that the facility was slated for closure and that her job would be eliminated. "There are very limited community resources on the Shore," she said. "There's a gap. Where are the patients going to go? That's our biggest concern."

Under the union proposal, about 20 of the 90 employees would be laid off, and the number of beds would be reduced. But the facility would still provide inpatient treatment to those suffering from substance abuse and mental illness; peer-to-peer counseling and a short-term living unit for patients seeking longer-term arrangements.

Baltimore Sun reporter Julie Bykowicz contributed to this article.

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