“Why are your patients more important than our neighborhood?” That was the constant sentiment from the Southwest Partnership towards the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) in last night’s long-awaited meeting between the two groups. The University of Maryland had three years to find a new home, but didn’t have the courtesy to meet with the surrounding SoWeBo neighborhoods until their facility was up and running at 1001 West Pratt St.
It is a major priority of this administration to clean up the Westside neighborhood of downtown and University of Maryland admitted that the treatment services were kicked out of the Walter P. Carter Clinic on their campus. “We were evicted and the decision of where we were allowed to go came from way above our authority,” said Jon Spearman, senior vice president of external affairs at University of Maryland Medical Center. “So obviously Roland Park and Bolton Hill weren’t options?” replied Chris Taylor, president of the Union Square Association.
“We made a mistake, we were under a lot of pressure,” said Spearman in regards to not having any communication with the surrounding neighborhoods. “We needed to find a home for our 500-600 patients or we were at risk of losing our program. The opportunity at 1001 West Pratt St. popped up and fit our needs. Any other building would have required four to six months of rehab before we could move in,” continued Spearman. Over the three years UMMC looked at more than 20 properties, many of which were not ideal or unapproved by “higher authority.”
The move to 1001 West Pratt St. was facilitated by The Abell Foundation who purchased the buildings in foreclosure from Baltimore Behavioral Health (BBH). Abell not only saved BBH, which has long been a struggle for the neighborhood, but opened the door for 600 UMMC patients to join them at the two building facility. “You said: “Why would we come to you? We know you don’t want it in your neighborhood.” That was verbatim out of your mouth,” said Taylor when staring at a member of Abell. She didn’t dismiss the statement.
Frustration continued to boil over in the room in regards to how UMMC was always more concerned about their patients than their community. UMMC will provide security for the facility, but only on the campus. “It’s not what happens at your facility that is the problem, it’s when these patients spill out into our community,” said many neighbors in the crowd. “You have more authority with the city than we do. You need to use that authority so that the police will keep our neighborhood safe. We all know where the drug deals go down, give us extra security,” they added.
“I’m tired of the swearing I hear out my window. I can’t go a day without seeing a drug deal involving methadone. I have kids that shouldn’t be exposed to that,” said Betsy Waters, who is a 30-year resident of Hollins Market. “My kids, who all attended Baltimore City Public Schools, were always told that their behavior outside of school represented the school. You guys need to preach the same philosophy.”
“It shouldn’t be okay for you to just bring treatment centers to our neighborhood. Where is the prevention? Where are activities for our kids? How are you helping the schools?” said a Hollins Market resident. “If you truly want to be a neighbor to us than be one. Don’t just bring treatment centers and nothing else,” he added. A large eruption of joy swelled the crowd after his statements.
A question that UMMC circled around answering was, “What is the success rate with your program?” Program Director Jewell Benson said a lot of things, but the most definitive answer he could give was, “I guess it just depends what your definition of success is?” Members of the crowd had been told by BBH that their success rate was around 10%. UMMC assured the crowd they are not BBH.
A large struggle for the neighborhood has been caused by the shopping center located directly behind the buildings. Recently a Safeway and Rite Aid closed their doors and, though close to signing a lease, a Planet Fitness decided against joining the shopping center at the last minute. “If you really wanted to build a community, you would have put student housing in the facility and the adjacent shopping center could have housed resources like a campus book store and a new grocery store,” said a member of the audience. This got the largest applause of the night.
Southwest Partnership vows to continue their fight against the clustering of treatment centers in their community. Hollins Roundhouse president Jane Buccheri stared at the member of The Abell Foundation and said, “We will make sure one of these treatment facilities is removed, you’ll have to pick which one is more important.” Abell President Robert C. Embry Jr. was not present, so all the representative could say was, “I’ll pass that information along.” Embry has yet to meet with the community.
A final statement was made by a Hollins Market resident to end the meeting. “This is not some place where we come to work. This is where we live. We can’t just escape to the county, this is our home. I want to stay, but I am tired, really tired.” Clapping followed.
Video Feature of Southwest Partnership’s March 8th Rally