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Potomac Center's future discussed at meeting

March 10, 2001

Potomac Center's future discussed at meeting



By SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

A meeting Saturday mediated by two state elected officials to address concerns about the future of the Potomac Center was attended by about 45 relatives and employees.

The state-funded Potomac Center is a residential facility on Marshall Street that provides daily care for about 80 mentally disabled residents. It has approximately 180 employees.

The relatives and Del. Bob McKee, R-Washington, and Del. Chris Shank, R-Washington, asked a state official if it was true the center was going to close.

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"There is no secret plan to close Potomac Center," replied Diane K. Coughlin, director of Maryland's Developmental Disabilities Administration.

Pressed, she said, "I honestly don't know if it will close at some point."

McKee said he and Shank oppose closing Potomac Center.

"This is very important to your loved ones," McKee said.

Shank promised "my unqualified support for this center. ... If there is an attempt to close this facility, I'll fight it tooth and nail."

McKee and Shank asked Coughlin and Karen Post, Western Regional Director for the Developmentally Disabled Administration, to address another concern: that the center was going to move some residents to group homes.

Coughlin said about 56 out of the 526 residents in state-funded centers will be moved into group homes this year.

After the meeting she said about 12 residents will be moving from the Potomac Center to group homes this year. About six have already been moved, she said.

McKee and Shank said group homes can be a good environment for some residents.

Shank expressed concern, though, about the "abhorrent" salaries of group home employees. Why are they making less per hour than employees at Sheetz? he asked.

Some were pleased with the meeting, but others remained concerned and discouraged.

While Bill Wolford of Hagerstown left the meeting not knowing if the center will close, he said he is pleased that they were able to meet and try to get questions answered. His daughter, who is 42, lives at the Potomac Center and loves it, he said.

Jim Kuzma of Rockville said he was given the answers he expected but not the information he wants. While Coughlin refused to confirm it, he believes the center will close at some point.

His brother lives at the center and likes it, he said.

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