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County delegates hear public's concerns

January 23, 1999|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Funding for a Hagerstown assisted-living center in danger of closing and for programs to bridge the gap between home and an institution for mentally ill Washington County residents topped a list of concerns voiced to state lawmakers at a public hearing Saturday morning.

Fewer than two dozen people attended the hearing at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater.

However, the Washington County delegation heard from most of the people, several of whom addressed multiple issues.

The hearing lasted about two of its scheduled three hours.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, Del. Louise V. Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington, and Del. Joseph R. Bartlett, R-Frederick/Washington, listened, asked questions and shared information and opinions.

Meant to give state lawmakers a sense of their constituents' priorities for the Maryland General Assembly before the session started, the hearing had to be rescheduled from Jan. 9 because of an ice storm, said McKee, the delegation chairman.

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The General Assembly's 90-day session began Jan. 13.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, and Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, could not attend Saturday because of prior commitments, McKee said.

Two members of the nonprofit Senior Living Alternatives board asked for the delegation's help in securing ongoing state funding for its two assisted-living centers on South Potomac Street, which are in dire financial straits.

Holly Place and North Holly Place are home to 30 low-income, elderly people too frail to live unassisted but not ill enough to qualify for nursing home care, they said.

"If we are forced to close our doors, we have no idea where these 30 people are going to go," said Board President Jean Hettenhouser.

The financial problems can be traced to rising costs of needs like utilities and food, the small increase in Social Security payments and a substantial cut in funding by the Washington County Gaming Commission, Hettenhouser said.

After getting $32,000 to $35,000 a year from the gaming commission in the past, the assisted-living centers received only $10,000 last year, she said.

State subsidies haven't been raised in eight years and cover only about a third of costs, Hettenhouser said.

The centers, which need $12,000 by the end of the month to stay open, are falling about $4,000 short of costs each month, she said.

Lawmakers pledged the delegation's support in finding a way to keep the assisted-living centers going.

Hecht said it would be a good idea for the delegation to sit down with the Department of Aging's new head and talk about funding.

There needs to be a funding mechanism in place for transitional housing for mentally ill adults and adolescents, representatives of the Washington County Mental Health Advisory Committee said.

A therapeutic group home, for example, offers needed structure and supervision with less restriction and half the cost of the institutions where many people not yet able to go home are forced to remain, committee Chairman Wiley Rutledge said.

The problem is the state will provide funding for the institutional care but not the transitional care, which actually goes against a state mandate to place mentally ill people in the least restrictive setting possible, Rutledge said.

He said the committee is aware of at least five Washington County residents who are being "warehoused" in institutions because transitional housing isn't available.

Two are in prison and three are in the state mental hospital in Frederick, Md., Rutledge said.

His request to look into the situation found support among the lawmakers.

"I doesn't seem to me that you're asking for money. You're trying to save the state money," said Shank, who agreed the state seems to be violating its own mandates regarding care.

Speakers at Saturday's hearing also asked thedelegation for:




- Delegation support for a House bill increasing school construction funding to individual counties.

- Improved enforcement against people who abuse handicapped parking spaces, possibly though a program allowing trained citizens to ticket violators.

- The state's help in getting elderly residents affordable Medicare supplement insurance.

- The state board overseeing medical licenses to make it easier, not harder, for retired doctors to get the free license and malpractice insurance available to those who volunteer their services.

- A law requiring all firearms confiscated by law enforcement officers in the state be offered for sale through licensed dealers.

- The option of lifetime hunting and fishing licenses.

- Delegation support for Gov. Parris Glendening's proposed cigarette tax.

- Delegation opposition to public funding for a new minor league baseball stadium in Washington County.

- Monitoring of any right-to-farm legislation to make sure it protects against "animal factory" operations concentrated in so small a space they cause health concerns.

- Highway signs reminding drivers about headlight and windshield wiper laws.

- A law requiring white strobe lights on the rear of any vehicle that carries eight or more passengers.

- Devoting more Project Open Space money to land acquisition.

- Reconsidering a bill calling for deposits on bottles.

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