Originally created 04/18/99

Gracewood changes criticized



On Saturday, tears of frustration filled the eyes of several Gracewood employees and family members of residents at the school, many of whom feared the fate of loved ones if the facility for the mentally handicapped is turned into a youth detention center.

They expressed their concerns at a meeting at Gracewood State School and Hospital held by the Gracewood Family Council Inc., which consists of family and friends of the facility's residents.

The state has decided to move 100 Gracewood residents to Georgia Regional Hospital, the facility's administrator Bruce Callander said. However, state and hospital officials say no decision has been made about the 500 other clients who reside there.

A proposal to move juvenile inmates into parts of the facility also has not won approval.

A lack of funding is being pointed to as the driving force for the potential changes.

"One of the tasks has been to save money," said Chief Facility Administrator Rudy Magnone, adding that hospital funding decreased this year and is expected to drop again next year. "We are in the process of consolidating all that we can. We will continue to find any way that we can to save money."

"There are no plans that we are aware of to close Gracewood at this point," he said.

If the school stays open, family members and Gracewood employees want to know if longtime residents can still stay at the home.

"Parents should have choices. We need some satisfaction. Parents of normal children have choices," said Anne Knighton, the Gracewood Family Council president. She said also that state representatives were asked to come to the meeting, but none showed.

"We need to have people involved on the front end," said Augusta Mayor Bob Young about not having any Augustans serving as on the board of the Department of Human Resources. Mr. Young said also he was unable to get any answers from the state agencies.

Some south Augusta residents have said they are concerned about another jail being located in their neighborhood.

"Most of us wouldn't have moved to south Augusta if we had known that we were going to be surrounded by jails," said Frances Sizemore, president of the Pepperidge Neighborhood Association."I want to know why south Augusta has to have all of the criminals in the state."

State Juvenile Justice officials said in March that there have been talks about letting the juvenile inmates use the vacant areas on the campus.

State Rep. George Deloach, who said he couldn't attend the meeting because of a family trip planned previously, wrote a letter to the Gracewood council in response to the possible mixing of juveniles and the mentally handicapped at the facility.

"I cannot believe present state officials think they can mix juvenile correction and mental retardation without interrupting the proper care that is given at this institution," the letter states. "I will support any legislation to keep GSSH as it is presently operating."

Clarissa J. Walker can be reached at (706) 828-3851 or cjwalker@augustachronicle.com.