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Center accepting patients with criminal histories

May 18, 2007|by DAN DEARTH

The Washington County Public Schools system isn't worried about letting its students use the gymnasium at the Potomac Center, even though the facility recently admitted three patients with criminal histories.

Steve Ganley, safety and security specialist/risk manager for Washington County Public Schools, said when the students from Marshall Street School use the gymnasium, they always are under adult supervision.

"The gym is not utilized by Potomac Center when the students are using it. ... We feel that the risk is minimal," he said.

The ratio typically is one adult to two children when Marshall Street students use the gym, Ganley said.

Students with disabilities attend Marshall Street School, said Carol Mowen, spokeswoman for Washington County Public Schools. The students range in age from 3 to 21, she said.

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Because Marshall Street School does not have a gymnasium, students use the one next door at the Potomac Center for physical education, Mowen said.

As far as the Potomac Center's patients wandering into the school, Ganley said school officials aren't worried, considering people need to swipe a card to unlock the doors.

"Anyone wishing to gain access has to be granted access by staff members," he said. "It's the same thing at dismissal. ... The staff monitors the students to the buses."

The Potomac Center is a state-operated residential center that caters to the needs of the developmentally disabled.

It started accepting patients with criminal histories last month, said Karen Black, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Of the Potomac Center's 52 patients, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reports that three have criminal histories.

Two of those patients were admitted last month to the Potomac Center, she said. The department reported a third patient was admitted in May.

Black did not release the nature of their crimes, stating patient confidentiality laws as the reason. She said none of the patients are violent.

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene anticipates that a small number of additional patients with criminal histories will be admitted to the Potomac Center, Black said.

She said those patients are not competent to stand trial and will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis before they are admitted.

Earlier this year, several Potomac Center employees asked the Hagerstown City Council to find out more about the state's plans to send criminal patients to the facility.

Some of the employees said, in part, that they didn't have the proper training to care for patients with criminal - and possibly violent - histories.

Janet Morehouse of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said Thursday that the Potomac Center staff has received adequate training to handle patients with criminal backgrounds.

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