Potomac Center getting new residents

April 30, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

HAGERSTOWN - About two dozen new residents will be coming to the Potomac Center in Hagerstown, which is now home to about 55 mentally disabled people.

The additional people could be a boon for the center, which has been eyed for closure as the state has moved many residents into less-restrictive group homes.

But one community activist is trying to find out whether any of the newcomers have criminal records, raising questions about the safety of staff and neighbors as well as residents of the West End center.


"These are the most vulnerable people in our state in terms of not being able to protect themselves," said Bill Wolford of Hagerstown.

On Thursday, Sen. Donald F. Munson met with a staffer in Gov. Robert Ehrlich's office who promised to get some answers.

Munson, R-Washington, said he's been told the residents are people who have mental illness combined with developmental disabilities. They're coming from Crownsville Hospital Center, which the state is closing this summer, he said.

They'll be living in two of the five cottages at Marshall Street's Potomac Center campus, according to an April 16 letter written by Jean Klein, a residential social worker for the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Administration.

Current residents will occupy the other three cottages, the letter said.

Munson said state officials assured him several months ago that the new residents would not require locked doors.

But contradictory information he recently received has led him to ask more questions about the transfer.

Wolford has been an advocate for keeping the center open as more and more residents have been moved into community group homes.

"I have mixed emotions about this thing," he said. "Yes, I want to keep Potomac Center open, but I don't want to do it this way."

No one at the Potomac Center was available to comment about the transfer on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.

An inquiry was made with a public affairs officer at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Baltimore on Thursday, but the information was not immediately available.

In a related matter, Ehrlich signed legislation earlier this week that will allow mentally disabled people to be admitted to the Potomac Center for up to 45 days for respite care.

The $800,000 program is designed to offer some relief to families caring for mentally disabled people in their homes.

Family members of residents said it's also a way to keep the underused institutions viable.

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