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Hundreds protest mental health facility in Baldwin Township

| Thursday, Nov. 20, 2008

Baldwin Township commissioners Monday night delayed a decision on whether to allow a mental health facility on Newport Drive.

About 200 people showed up at the Castle Shannon Fire Hall to oppose Mercy Behavioral Health's proposal for the former Rolling Hills Manor site. They left the questioning to attorney John Arminas, who said he was hired by several of the residents who live adjacent to the property.

Arminas, along with township solicitor Thomas McDermott, questioned Mercy officials on the safety of the facility and how it will be used. Mercy plans a long-term structured residence for 32 people there, "which is the same as a nursing home," said the company's lawyer, Arnold Horovitz.

But Arminas said it does not qualify as a nursing home under the state Public Welfare Code. That defines a nursing home as a place that cares for residents who are not "acutely ill," Arminas said. The Mercy facility will offer an extended acute-care program.

"It sounds more like a prison, not a nursing home to me," Arminas said.

The facility will have secured doors and windows and an outdoor recreational area enclosed by a 6-foot fence, said architect Frank Golba.

Arminas questioned whether a facility with locked doors and cameras monitoring the entryways is safe.

"I believe it is," said Peggy Kearney, a licensed clinical social worker with Mercy. "The community is not endangered from the residents we serve."

Mary Jeanne Serafin, CEO at Mayview State Hospital, said all residents would either have a mental illness or severe psychiatric disability who require 24-hour care in a facility that can be locked.

After more than four hours and with only three of the 12 planned Mercy representatives having the opportunity to speak, the commissioners delayed a preliminary vote. A second hearing will be scheduled within the next 45 days.

McDermott reassured the few people who stayed until the end of the meeting all would have a chance to comment.

"We're not giving up. We can't give up," said opponent Eileen Hoellein. "Nobody wants this here. If we give up, we'll have to move."

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