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Report: Keep centers for the developmentally disabled open

February 03, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

A long-awaited state report has recommended against closing the Potomac Center in Hagerstown for now.

But parents of residents say they will remain wary of the future as long as the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Administration continues its policy of moving developmentally disabled adults from residential centers into community-based treatment programs.

"We're going to be replaying this Groundhog Day drill every year," said William Pitcher, a lobbyist hired by family members of residents from all four centers in the state.

Closing any of the state's four residential centers for developmentally disabled adults, including the Potomac Center, would not be cost-effective right now, according to the report, which was released last week.

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If any of the centers was targeted for closure, Rosewood in Owings Mills, Md., would be the best choice because it would save the most money over the long term, the report said.

The report recommends against closure since it would cost $7.5 million to mothball the facility and move the residents elsewhere.

If the state closed the Potomac Center, providers in the community might not be able to accommodate all 61 residents. Some might have to move out of the area, which would disrupt their relationships with family members, the report acknowledged.

Also, more than 130 employees might have to be laid off, the report said.

Care at the Potomac Center costs the state $174,583 per resident, compared to community-based care, which costs $138,414, the report says.

But that figure is misleading, Pitcher said.

Costs generally are higher for center residents because, as the most profoundly disabled people in the state, they require expensive medical care, he said.

Even assuming a lower cost of community placements, closing the Potomac Center would not save the state any money, the report said.

The department would have to move its Western Maryland Regional Office, which is in a building on the center's 23-acre campus.

Also, the state would lose cost savings it gets by sharing food services with the Western Maryland Center in Hagerstown.

Pitcher is pushing for legislation that would open up the centers to other uses.

A bill sponsored by Appropriations Committee Chairman Norman Conway, D-Eastern Shore, would require the state to use the centers for expanded respite care for developmentally disabled adults.

Another bill would require the state to give developmentally disabled adults a choice to live in one of the centers, where there have been no new admissions in about eight years, Pitcher said.

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