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Sun mischaracterizes Ruxton rehab house issue

The Sun once again pulls out all the stops from its lofty editorial perch to totally mischaracterize issues with Sheppard Pratt locating a half-way house in Ruxton ("Discrimination in Ruxton," April 25). In the process, it also fails to address the very essence of the story.

Shame on Sheppard Pratt for the way the half-way house plan was presented to the community. They claim to be part of the community, but they came in without prior dialogue with the community and told us that the deal is fait accompli, irrespective of the community's feelings. They have signed a contract to acquire the house for around $1.5 million, and their pedigree legal counsel from Venable LLP has fully vetted the legality of their plan, so they tell the community that we have no say in the matter. Nice way to enter into conversation with your "neighbors" and a particularly nice PR campaign, wouldn't you agree?

Shame on Sheppard Pratt for thinking that their wealthy patients, who are going to be paying around $2,000 per day for up to a six month stay, would in fact "assimilate into the community," according to their plan. Are the patients going to feel comfortable staying in a community where community members will easily recognize them as strangers? Wouldn't Sheppard Pratt's "experts" recognize that those patients probably want their privacy respected, rather than being easily identified as having "issues"? Wouldn't interaction with children be important to the healing process? And yet, as we have taught them, our children will rightly seek to avoid contact with these patient/strangers.

Some people throw the ball for their dogs either on the street or in a friend's open yard. Will the patients suffer anxieties if they encounter the dogs that we exercise in and around the neighborhood? Wouldn't this all in fact add to the patients' stress levels? And who's going to tell the local liquor or drug stores, which are situated one minute away from this half-way house, not to sell alcohol or medicine to the patient-residents? How are the managers and employees of these stores going to know who the patients are and what's going to happen if/when a patient legally acquires and abuses alcohol and meds?

Shame on Sheppard Pratt for its fiscal irresponsibility. We are curious to know if anybody (certainly not the realtors) told Sheppard Pratt's board that their "non-profit" institution is paying at least $200,000 over market for this house ... unless this was the plan from day one when the current architect-owner paid well over market for this half-acre lot to then renovate, er demolish, the Hawk house, and then to build this totally out-of-place monstrosity? Did anyone on the board ask what a comparable house would cost if it was built on Sheppard Pratt's own campus? If I were a donor to this esteemed institution, I'd certainly question whether the board and the management are being faithful stewards of its financial resources and of my contributions.

Shame of Sheppard Pratt for parading around its "non-profit" status relating to this project. If they aren't making significant profit from eight residents paying $2,000 per day at this site then they are woefully mismanaged financially. Oh, and the benefit to Baltimore County and the State? More than $10,000 in annual property tax payments lost to this non-profit, while the demands for utilities and waste disposal increases nearly six-fold. So the rest of Maryland's taxpayers get to shoulder the burden of this experiment in half-way housing for Sheppard Pratt's wealthy clientele.

And the neighborhood now faces the prospect of the increased traffic, the comings and goings of 24-7 staff, of the doctors, of the cleaning and support services, etc. at the facility, and to date, no plan has been communicated to the neighborhood. There are no assurances in writing of protocol, procedures, patient monitoring on- and off-site and of in- and out-flows of staff and services.

One very special feature of this neighborhood is that the children can roam from house to house, and they can bike ride, skateboard and walk dogs fairly freely. Simply put, introducing this half-way house will restrict these freedoms in numerous ways.

We are not elitist. We are just like every other neighborhood in this state that cares about our friends and children and about having a sense of a real community. When presented with an ultimatum, the natural reaction is to fight, which is what we will do both through civil and legal actions to protect the community that has grown here over the last 50-plus years. We simply ask anyone who cherishes living in a community to reflect on how such a half-way house, when placed in their own front or back yard, might affect the freedoms that they so enjoy. Perhaps next time, The Sun's editorial writer will get up from his/her computer, go out to visit those affected by such a plan, walk around the neighborhood and see the children running around and the families interacting. Only then can he/she gain a proper perspective of both the people who are being affected and what's at stake for their community.

Christopher A. Pistell, Ruxton

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