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Potomac Center could get people with violent history

March 02, 2007|by DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN - Developmentally disabled people with a violent history could be housed at the Potomac Center in Hagerstown, according to Karen Black, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Potential admissions would be evaluated by state officials on a case-by-case basis, she said.

"I guess they could (be admitted) ... like they could to a variety of places," Black said.

The possibility of violent patients coming to the Potomac Center, a state-operated residential center on Marshall Street that caters to the needs of the developmentally disabled, has upset some employees there.

About 10 of the facility's past and current employees attended Tuesday night's Hagerstown City Council meeting and implored city lawmakers to learn more about the state's intentions.

Rick Robinette, a former Potomac Center employee who retired last year after 28 years of service, said he is concerned that neither the facility nor the employees are ready to handle violent patients.

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The Potomac Center doesn't have enough locking doors that would keep violent patients from wandering through the facility and into local neighborhoods, said Robinette, now a representative of Local 354 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union that represents a portion of the Potomac Center's employees.

He said the lack of security would put not only the Potomac Center's residents and employees in danger, but the community as a whole.

"The facility isn't set up to handle that kind of population," Robinette said. "It's a great facility ... (But) you need to prepare and have specialized training for the staff."

He said the Potomac Center had five security officers when he started working there in 1978. Now, it has one, Robinette said.

The union would be willing to accept violent patients if the staff was trained and the facility received security upgrades, he said.

Karen Post, director of the Western Maryland Regional Office of the Developmental Disabilities Administration, said the state won't send any violent patients to the Potomac Center for the time being.

She did, however, confirm that the facility could get patients with a criminal background.

"The people we think may come to Potomac Center are not violent," Post said. "(They're) no different from current patients ... (It's) just they have had contact with the court."

She used a developmentally disabled person with a shoplifting conviction as an example of someone who could be admitted to the facility.

Robinette said the Potomac Center originally was licensed to house about 133 patients. The facility's current population is about 45 people, he said.

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