Legislators to Fight Closure of Eastern Shore Mental Health Facility

Capital News Service

Maryland lawmakers and supporters of Kent County’s Upper Shore Community Mental Health Center promised on Wednesday to use the upcoming legislative session to fight the facility’s closure by the Board of Public Works.

“That’s not it,” said Del. Mary Roe Walkup, R-Kent. “We haven’t stopped yet. We won’t turn our backs on them, that’s not something I’m willing to do.”

The Board of Public Works finalized a decision initially made in August to close the center by March, despite vocal opposition from the facility’s employees, board of trustees and a number of state legislators.

More than 30 supporters of the Upper Shore Center gathered in a cramped meeting room to hear Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary John Colmers defend his proposal to close the facility.

After approving the closure in August, the Board of Public Works instructed Colmers to review the decision when it was revealed that some of the information he had presented was incorrect.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Colmers said his plan would save the state $5 million and expand community-based services for mentally ill patients.

Employees and supporters of the center said that Colmers’ plan would simply “dump” patients into a community ill-equipped to treat them.

Walter Palmer, the president of the center’s board of trustees, presented an alternative plan that would keep the facility open by reducing its number of beds and employees, resulting in $2 million in budget reductions.

Ultimately, the board sided with Colmers. In a 2-1 vote, it decided not to reconsider the closure.

Comptroller Peter Franchot was the dissenting vote. Gov. Martin O’Malley and Treasurer Nancy Kopp voted yes.
“I don’t think this decision is the right one,” Franchot said.

Walkup said she was struck by the fact that no one at the meeting disputed the high level of care provided by the center. In her view, the closure was made for purely budgetary purposes.

In a conversation just outside the board meeting in the State House, Delegates Heather Mizeur, D-Montgomery, and Michael D. Smigiel, R-Cecil, shook hands and vowed to take up the fight in the legislature.

“Let’s get together soon and get something going on this,” Mizeur said to Smigiel.

Mizeur, who is a member of the Health and Government Operations Committee, said in an interview that the timing of the decision concerns the facility’s supporters in the legislature.

“We need to make sure (the center) is not bled to death in the time in between today’s meeting and the legislative session,” starting in January, she said.