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State of Maryland considers closing Potomac Center

June 29, 2005|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Gloria Leonard's adopted daughter, Andrea, was 8 years old when she arrived at the Potomac Center in Hagerstown more than 25 years ago, weighing just 20 pounds and unable to move her arms.

Andrea had been abandoned at birth and suffered severe medical and developmental disabilities as a result of exposure to meningitis.

Leonard said her daughter was not expected to live through her teenage years, but the state-run Potomac Center worked to rehabilitate her health by providing day and night emotional and physical care.

Leonard fears that Andrea, 34, is in jeopardy of being forced out of the Potomac Center as the state considers closing the facility.

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"It's a home, and it's the only home that she's ever had," Leonard said Tuesday in a phone interview.

The state's secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene will make a stop Friday at the Potomac Center as part of a tour through Western Maryland.

Karen Black, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said Tuesday that Secretary S. Anthony McCann plans to stop at several state facilities during the tour. She said she didn't know what time McCann would be in Hagerstown.

In a June 22 letter to The Herald-Mail, Leonard said that the center teaches life skills and provides structure and stability for its residents.

"In short, the Potomac Center is an outstanding permanent residence for some and a perfect temporary stop for others as they integrate into the community," Leonard said in the letter.

A state budget analysis by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's Developmental Disabilities Administration recommended closing the facility for the mentally disabled this fiscal year.

The department's Web site doesn't state when the analysis was written, but it does say that it was last modified June 1.

The Potomac Center's 59 residents would have the option of moving to other state or community care centers, according to the budget report.

Closing the facility on Marshall Street would save $600,000 a year in overhead costs associated with administration, and dietary and household services, according to the report.

The center's budget for this fiscal year is $9.49 million.

The recommendation to close the center was made by the Department of Legislative Services.

The report states the Washington County Board of Education has expressed interest in the Potomac Center facility.

Public Information Officer Carol Mowen said Tuesday that the facility was addressed informally a year or two ago but that she wasn't sure if the idea was pursued.

Mowen said she couldn't recall why the School Board was interested in the center.

The budget analysis states there's enough capacity at state-run and community homes in Maryland to accommodate the Potomac Center residents.

Two of the state homes mentioned in the report as having capacity are the Rosewood center in Owings Mills, Md., and the Brandenburg center in Cumberland, Md. Both are within 75 miles of Hagerstown.

Leonard said by phone that if the Potomac Center closes, she would be faced with placing her daughter miles away from Hagerstown or in a nursing home.

Either is not an option, she said.

Leonard said a nursing home would remove her daughter from various community activities she's involved in and that being placed in Owings Mills or Cumberland would mean her daughter would be away from her family.

"Everybody that she had made connections with, she would lose," Leonard said. "Those are the only options I have, and those are not acceptable."

She said her daughter can't live at home with her because of her many medical issues.

Leonard said she thinks residents of the Potomac Center should be given "freedom of choice" about where to live.

Leonard said that McCann might be the last hope for keeping the Potomac Center open.

"I think the (Department of Developmental Disabilities) has lost sight of what's going on here," Leonard said. "This is about people who are losing their homes."

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