Two Prince George's County elected officials are complaining that recent staff reductions and fee increases at Prince George's General Hospital's Sexual Assault Center will endanger the program and the nearly 1,000 clients it serves, at a time when reports of such abuse are on the increase.
Del. Joan Pitkin of Bowie and County Council member Jo Ann T. Bell of District Heights separately requested that action be taken to resolve what Pitkin characterized in a letter to County Executive Parris Glendening as "an urgent crisis" concerning the center.
"The Sexual Assault Center has been under siege, even as the number of abuse cases in our county has risen to among the highest in the state," Pitkin wrote Friday in her letter to Glendening.
A county domestic violence task force report released in April found that reports of spouse abuse in the county more than doubled between 1981 and 1984, from 327 to 665.
Discussions concerning the future of the center, which had been staffed by six professionals, arose after Dr. Lin Bessett, the center's director for nearly seven years, was fired from her $28,500-a-year position in late May.
A spokesman for Community Hospital and Health Care Systems, the private nonprofit organization that runs the hospital, said yesterday that her position was eliminated as a cost-cutting move, in part because the center lost about $100,000 last year, excluding a state grant of $18,000.
But Bessett, Bell and Pitkin said that Bessett's firing removed the most experienced counselor from the center and that a second counselor, Pat Waldron, quit as a result of Bessett's removal.
Bessett, 40, said that two full-time and two part-time employes remain.
Bell met with representatives of the hospital last week after constituents who were clients of Bessett expressed concern that their treatment might be suspended.
"My objection was . . . firing Bessett is fine if you're running a business, but you're in the health-care business," Bell said. "It doesn't take a lot of common sense to realize that anyone in therapy is going through a great deal of struggle."
"They took a lot of people in the middle of that on Monday," Bell said, "and cut them off on Wednesday."
Hospital spokesman Michael Canning said that fees for outpatient counseling services at the center were increased significantly in March, raising the cost for what is listed as a "brief visit" from $5 to $15 and the cost of longer visits from $35 to $50.
Canning characterized the complaints as a "tempest in a teapot."
"There is no intent to diminish services or change them," he said. "It is just an adjustment in the direction of the department."
Canning said that Bessett's position will be filled on a part-time basis by Soo Song, a psychiatric nurse who has worked at the hospital for 10 years.
"The hospital is saying that the quality of service is not going to decrease," Bessett said yesterday. "That's not possible."