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Revisions urged in work rules for disabled

October 07, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

Noah Linn Hendershot, a 53-year-old resident of the Western Maryland Center and a marketing professional, would like to work but says he can't afford it.

Hendershot told U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-Md., Monday that he'll lose his Social Security disability payments if he gets a job, so it's cheaper for him not to work. Those payments help pay for his stay at the hospital, where he's on a ventilator.

Hendershot used to be marketing director for the Atlanta Falcons, the U.S. Auto Club in Indianapolis and for NASCAR at Daytona, Fla.

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Hendershot said thousands of people are being forced to circumvent the system in order to work.

"We have a lot of people with good minds and messed up bodies. The way the system is set up today, you have to cheat in order to go to work, and that's wrong," he said.

Hendershot said that just because he has a tube coming out of his neck and is in a wheelchair doesn't mean he can't work. "I have 30 years of experience," he said.

Bartlett, who toured the center with new Director Cynthia Miller Pellegrino, said the laws need to be changed to reward people on disability or on welfare for going to work. Bartlett said he remembers one woman coming to him in tears because working at an entry level job without health benefits wasn't worth as much as staying on welfare with health benefits. Bartlett said he'd rather see health benefits for those who get a job and get off welfare.

Bartlett said one of the problems is that companies don't want to hire people who will have high health insurance costs and insurance companies don't want to cover them. He said the companies are trying to avoid the risk, rather than spread the risk. That philosophy, while making money for the insurance companies, costs society because fewer people are working and because government ends up paying the health costs, Bartlett said.

Bartlett also saw some of Hendershot's handiwork in the center's computer lab.

Hendershot, with help from some volunteers, created a full-color calendar of Western Maryland birds and flowers using PCs, scanners and color printers. The center is selling the calendars for $10 in hopes of recouping enough funds to expand the computer lab and make other improvements.

"The tranquilizers wore off and I had to do something. We all need to feel needed," he said.

"I've got a little Barnum and Bailey in my soul," he said.

Hendershot said he'd also like to fund a video camera and an alarm system on the outside grounds of the center. The alarm would notify staff if a ventilator malfunctions.

That would help alleviate patients' fears and encourage them to get outside, according to Hendershot.

"A lot of these people never get out of their rooms."

Hendershot has been at the center for about three months after contracting pneumonia and having a hole cut in his neck for breathing. Hendershot, who also has weakened legs from polio, uses a battery-powered ventilator to breathe.

In addition to the calendars, Hendershot has also written reports on new technologies developed to aid in mobility, hearing and communication based on research he did on the Internet. His goal is to get the patients, some of whom can only mouth words or have difficulty typing, to have a better chance at communicating.

"That's the difference between living and not living," he said.

Hendershot also teaches computer classes for staff and patients alike including surfing the Internet and using Microsoft Word.

The 175-bed chronic disease hospital is operated by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. It employees 300 people and has served about 8,500 patients since 1957.

"This is the best kept secret in Western Maryland," Pellegrino said. Pellegrino said the hospital focuses on patients who would otherwise fall through the cracks.

"It's good to get people like the congressman here," Hendershot said. "We need that kind of support."

The center also is in the running for a new Veterans Affairs Department health clinic expected to open by May 1998.

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