Rep. Gladys Noon Spellman, hospitalized since suffering heart arrest nearly three months ago, was transferred to Walter Reed Army Hospital yesterday for long-term care and therapy. Also yesterday, the House approved a resolution that provides for payment to the popular congresswoman, who is in a semiconscious state, and to her staff until her return or resignation.
Spellman, overwhelmingly elected to a fourth term from Maryland's 5th Congressional District after being stricken, will undergo new medical tests at Walter Reed during the next few days to evaluate her condition and determine a course of physical and speech therapy for her, according to aides in her congressional office.
Walter Reed is the third hosptial to care for the 61-year-old Democrat since she collapsed Oct. 31 during a campaign appearance at a Laurel shopping mall.
Immediately after her collapse, she was taken to Greater Laurel-Beltsville Hospital. A few weeks later she was moved to Prince George's General Hospital and Medical Center, where she remained until yesterday.
According to Art Jaeger, Spellman's press aide, Spellman's condition has not changed in the last few weeks since one of her cardiologists reported that she was no longer in continuous "sleeplike state," but was "not fully cognizant when she was awake. She looked at you, she looks at TV, but how much she understands we don't know. She can't communicate."
Although Spellman's illness stems from a heart episode, her heart and other organs are functioning normally, doctors said. It is her neurological condition -- her brain was deprived of oxygen for a brief period when her heart stopped -- that has been a cause for concern.
Jaeger said yesterday that despite Spellman's slow recovery and continuing inability to communicate, "it's entirely possible for her to recuperate to a point where she could resume her [congressional] duties."
Because of her illness, Spellman was not sworn in along with other recently elected members of Congress on Jan. 5, and she remains only a member-elect of Congress.
If Spellman is unable to resume her duties, Congress can act to have her seat declared vacant. If that were to happen, a special primary and general election would be called by Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes to find a replacement.
The resolution approved by voice vote in the House yesterday calls for Spellman to be paid "compensation in lieu of salary" equal to the $60,662.50 a year she would be earning "but for her inability to subscribe to the oath of office." Spellman also will receive all of the regular benefits of a member of the House, including health insurance and retirement funds.
The resolution orders the clerk to pay members of her staff "until otherwise directed."
The only question raised during the brief debate came from Republican whip Trent Lott, who asked Rep. Gillis W. Long (D-La.), the Democratic caucus chairman who acted as sponsor, whether Spellman would be permitted to vote by proxy in committee, as sometimes is done by ailing and absent members. After consultation, Long said that as a member-elect, Spellman is not eligible to cast proxy votes.