Spring Grove's Shame

December 01, 1991

The Schaefer administration and the General Assembly ought to be ashamed of themselves for allowing Spring Grove Hospital Center to revert to a dumping ground for mentally ill patients that is so bereft of basic services it cannot meet even minimum federal or private standards of decency.

As Sun reporter Suzanne Wooton documented last Sunday, Spring Grove is so dreadfully understaffed and its buildings are in such terrible shape that nurses and doctors have given up the pretense of trying to treat patients. It has become a human warehouse, plain and simple. The forgotten of society, who have nowhere else to go, wind up at Spring Grove. And state officials, apparently, no longer want to spend the necessary money to give them adequate treatment.

This disgrace has been going on since at least 1986, when the federal government stripped Spring Grove of its accreditation, depriving the state of $2 million in medical reimbursements. Maryland has pumped most of its mental health money into community-based programs, which is all to the good. But somewhere along the line, the plight of the remaining state hospitals, such as Spring Grove, was given short shrift.

Administrators tried to improve matters without extra funds by closing buildings, discharging less disturbed patients to community programs and using existing staff to treat a smaller, concentrated population. This effort collapsed during the recession. Warehousing has returned with a vengeance.

Spring Grove's 600 patients deserve better. Yet budget cuts have led to a shrunken staff, an end to therapeutic programs and an influx of patients forced to leave community programs that have lost state aid. The new patients tend to be younger, more aggressive and sicker than in the past. Violence is rising. Nurses have no time to help patients other than to medicate them. It is appalling.

As legislators prepare to once more cut the state budget, House and Senate leaders ought to visit Spring Grove. Catonsville isn't that far from Annapolis. Legislators should see first-hand what .. budget cuts do to a state mental hospital. It might give them a different perspective on the human cost of continually chopping the budget.

Something has to be done about the Spring Grove situation. It cannot be allowed to continue. A consolidation of state mental patients at one site might free up needed funds for improvements and more staff. Or legislators might finally see the necessity for increasing state taxes to bring Spring Grove up to minimal health standards.

Spring Grove is now the shame of Maryland. Until legislators and the governor act to improve conditions there, the shame will be on the heads.

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