The federal government has decided to transfer 110 Cuban refugees with mental or emotional problems from refugee camps in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to St. Elizabeths Hospital in the District of Columbia for further treatment.
The refugees, most of whose emotional problems developed after they fled Cuba during the mass exodus earlier this, year, are to be transferred here because the two camps they have been housed in are to be closed by next Wednesday, federal and local officials said yesterday.
The transfers are expected to begin immediately.
According to the officials, virtually all of the refugees are considered treatable and eventually are expected to be settled in the United States without further problems.
"There was an understanding," said William H. Whitehurst, deputy director of the District's Department of Human Services, "that they would be utilizing the facilities at St. Elizabeths." A federal official also confirmed that the patients will be treated at St. Elizabeths, a federal facility.
"Most of them will [be housed in a mental facility] for a short period of time," a White House Spokesman said yesterday. "I don't think any of them, or very, very few of them will need long-term treatment or care. . . . We're not considering any type of long-term arrangement."
The two camps involved, Fort McCoy in Wisconsin and Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania, are in northern sections of the country and neither is winterized. The advent of colder weather has forced their closing, the officials said. The few remaining Cubans not involved in the transfer here will be moved to Fort Chaffee, Ark.
"The population we're talking about [moving to St. Elizabeths] is not criminal or violent or troublemakers," the White House spokesman said yesterday. "Most of their problems have been caused by anxiety. . . . These people are not to be confused with the [Cubans] who have been put in correctional facilities."
According to Paul Amberson, a United States Catholic Conference official involved in the resettlement effort at Fort McCoy, some of those currently undergoing psychiatric treatment at the camp are already "capable of being sponsored and moving out."
"When you consider the stress these people have been under, I'm sure a goodly number of us would have needed help with emotional problems, too," he said.
Those with any evidence of emotional disorders "have been among the most thoroughly checked of any of the refugees," a spokesman with the State Department's Cuban-Haitian Task Force said yesterday. He said that the fact that only several hundred Cuban refugees have needed emotional help out of the 125,266 who have fled to the United States since April is a testament to the refugees' strength of will.
Currently, only about 9,600 refugees remain in the camps, most of whom are at Fort Chaffee, he said. By the end of today, Fort Indiantown Gap will be closed and Fort McCoy should follow within the week.
Initially, the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) considered moving the Cubans still in need of psychiatric care to Glenn Dale, an aging District of Columbia institution in Prince George's County, according to Rep. Gladys Spellman (D-Md.). She said she was called about the proposal Monday by federal officials.
Both Spellman and Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes opposed the move to Glenn Dale, and after they contacted White House officials and HHS Secretary Patricia Roberts Harris, the proposal was dropped.