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Donoghue's bill addresses 'abuse' in institutions

February 16, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS — Del. John P. Donoghue is proposing to amend the definition of "abuse" at state mental-health institutions.

Donoghue, D-Washington, said someone who works at the Potomac Center, a state-run center in Hagerstown for people with disabilities, was concerned about how employees are allowed to react if there's a physical altercation.

Donoghue's bill, which is scheduled to be heard Thursday, would let employees take "appropriate actions" to protect themselves and others around them.

The proposal, if approved, would allow staff members at the Potomac Center and other state facilities and residential centers to use additional techniques that would not be considered abuse, according to Karen Black, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which oversees those facilities.

"We teach our staff to de-escalate the behavior before it comes to a head," said Cathy Marshall, the director of both the Potomac Center and the Joseph D. Brandenburg Center near Cumberland.

The Brandenburg Center is scheduled to be shut down on June 30 as part of state budget cuts.

Black wrote in an e-mail that the department's Mental Hygiene Administration requires facilities to use what is known as Prevention and Management of Aggressive Behaviors, while the department's Developmental Disabilities Administration's facilities use Behavioral Principles and Strategies.

Employees are taught "(1) prevention techniques in order to prevent the behaviors from occurring; (2) de-escalation techniques to manage the behavior; and (3) the use of appropriate physical interventions if necessary to keep the consumers and staff safe," Black wrote.

"Our goal is to prevent the behavior from occurring, but if it does, manage it well," she said. "If physical intervention is required, the goal is to use approved techniques in order to prevent injuries to the consumer and staff."

Donoghue's bill reads "appropriate actions taken by an employee of a state residential center to protect the employee of other individuals in the residential center that involve the least amount of restriction required to provide the necessary protection" would not be defined as abuse.

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