Concerned that the Maryland budget crunch might prompt the state to close Spring Grove mental hospital in Catonsville, Baltimore County health officials this week are sending two separate letters to county government leaders urging that Spring Grove remain open.
The health officials said they fear the grim economic climate, combined with the trend toward removing mental patients from institutions and placing them in community-based treatment programs, could persuade state officials to close one of the three remaining large state hospitals and consolidate the other two.
The three hospitals are 197-year-old Spring Grove, Crownsville in Anne Arundel County and Springfield in Carroll County.
Two months ago the Maryland Association of Psychiatric Support Services (MAPSS), an umbrella organization of 50 community-based mental health programs throughout the state, published a study recommending closing one of the big three hospitals and shifting part of the savings to the community-based programs, MAPSS Executive Director Herbert Cromwell said.
Baltimore County health officials are concerned that MAPSS members will lobby Maryland lawmakers to take just such an action, and that the hospital that would wind up on the chopping block would be Spring Grove.
Mr. Cromwell said MAPSS has not specified which of the three hospitals it believes should be closed.
One of the letters from the county health officials was signed by Dr. Cornelius J. Feehley, chairman of the county's Mental Health Advisory Council. It was mailed yesterday to County Executive Roger B. Hayden.
The other one, signed by Dr. Samuel Havrilak, chairman of the county's Board of Health, is to be sent later this week to Mr. Hayden and to members of the county's legislative delegation, said Dr. Margaret L. Sherrard, director of the county's Department of Health.
The purpose of both letters is to encourage county government leaders to save Spring Grove, Dr. Sherrard said, citing statistics showing that most Spring Grove patients come from the county.
"We want to take action before any formal steps might be taken against Spring Grove," she said.
Spring Grove received $46.2 million in state funds for fiscal year 1992, which ends June 30. It is scheduled to get $48 million for fiscal 1993, said Michael Golden, a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
From July 1990 through June 1991, about half of Spring Grove's 2,189 patients were Baltimore County residents. Others came from Prince George's County, Harford County and Baltimore. The hospital currently serves about 110 patients a month, 60 of them from Baltimore County, according to William Landis, acting superintendent of Spring Grove.
Nelson J. Sabatini, secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said that although "about 18 percent of Spring Grove's patients are ready to move into a community-based treatment program, and we should be moving more people into the community programs," it would be "unrealistic" to consider closing one of the big three state hospitals.
"I think the vast majority of people in the hospitals need the kind of care that you can get only in a facility like Spring Grove," he said.
Edward J. Matricardi, director of the county's Bureau of Mental Health, said closing Spring Grove also probably would cause the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center, based at Spring Grove, to hook up with a private hospital and thus "deprive the state of the benefits of having a first-rate research facility at a state hospital."
Mr. Landis added, "Spring Grove has many patients who have been deemed by the courts to be dangerous to themselves or to others. They need to be treated in hospitals. You just don't dump people like that out into the street into a community program."
But Mr. Cromwell of MAPSS insists that the call by his organization to close a state mental hospital is not simply "an attempt to feather our own nest."
He said that some mental health patients would continue to get treatment in hospitals, but that their needs could be met at two of the existing three state facilities.
The other patients, he said, could be absorbed by community-based services that include outpatient clinics, job training programs and supervised group homes.