Springfield's chief to leave in September Hershfield returns to private practice SOUTHEAST--Sykesville * Eldersburg * Gamber

August 31, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

The man who entered medicine "basically to treat people and to help solve their problems" is leaving administrative problem-solving at Springfield Hospital Center and returning to private practice.

Dr. Bruce Hershfield, superintendent of the Sykesville hospital since 1986, eschews complacency and derives job satisfaction from challenges, often of his own making.

"Most of what you learn on a job, you learn the first year," he said. "After that, you polish."

After six years of polishing, improving patient-to-staff ratios and adding innovative programs to the state's largest psychiatric hospital, he said, the time has come for a career change and a new challenge.

The doctor announced his resignation last week, effective Sept. 17.

"I have done basically all I can accomplish here," he said. "Now it is time for new ideas here and for me to move on to other things."

The "other things" include devoting more time to his private medical practice and to his family, who live on a 40-acre Baltimore County farm. In June, he opened an office one day a week in the property's renovated barn, "an exotic location for an eclectic psychiatrist." He found he enjoyed seeing patients all day again and may consider also joining a group practice.

"There is a real shortage of psychiatrists, and I would like to expand my private practice," he said.

For 19 years, since earning his degree in psychiatry from the University of North Carolina, the 47-year-old physician has done consulting work and has maintained a part-time practice. Most of his work has been in administration.

The new practice has done well, he said, but has meant working "catch-up" at Springfield nearly every Sunday. He said he is looking forward to the change and to cutting back on the long hours. Two jobs are one too many, he said.

He readily admits to the difficulty in his decision to leave Springfield. His employer, the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and his staff encouraged him to stay.

"It will be really hard to see Dr. Hershfield go," said Betty Hofmann, his secretary. "He has done a lot for the hospital."

The doctor will be "in" at Springfield for three more weeks. He delayed his departure until the Joint Commission on Accreditation Organization completes its four-day comprehensive survey of the Sykesville facility this week.

"I wanted to stay through the survey, which is the first since 1990," he said.

Three years ago, under his leadership, Springfield earned its first JCAO accreditation in 10 years.

"When I came here, the hospital was in grave danger of losing its accreditation due to shortage of nursing and rehab staff," he said.

The Health Care Financing Administration put Springfield on a 90-day track for decertification in July 1986.

"With staff corrections, we pulled it off that track by October and it has never again been out of compliance," he said.

Since Dr. Hershfield, a former president of the Maryland Psychiatric Society, became superintendent, the hospital has reduced its patient census by more than 50 percent from 973 to its present 416. The long-range plan is for the center to house 350 patients, he said.

He calls the 1990s the "golden age" for psychiatry.

"It is still not a piece of cake, but we now have so many more ways to help people," he said. "Still, we can't cure everybody. Many need hospitalization."

Springfield also has participated in a domiciliary care program for patients about to re-enter the community. Dr. Hershfield will be discussing that program in October during a national psychiatric convention in Baltimore.

"We like to see people return to their communities and we discourage hospitalization, the most expensive form of treatment," he said.

Dealing with South Carroll residents concerned about changes at the hospital and patient who wander off has not been difficult, he said.

"Mystery surrounds psychiatric hospitals and people living nearby have questions," he said. "The public is becoming more educated on mental illness and easier to deal with. With more sophistication comes less stigma."

He cites staffing the state-run center as one of his greatest challenges.

"We have had a hiring and salary freeze for several years now," he said. "Most of us have had a salary decrease.

"Recruiting is a strain because salaries on the outside are not down and fewer people are going into psychiatry."

Closing several units at the site and transferring staff also "has put everyone to the test."

Dr. Hershfield does not rule out administrative roles in his future.

"I am leaving administration now but it doesn't mean I will never return," he said, with a smile. "After all, I am secretary of the American Association of Psychiatric Administrators."

Following his departure, Paula Langmead, assistant superintendent, will become acting director of the center.

"It will take the search committee time to find a replacement," he said. "I have a lot of confidence in Paula's ability to manage here."

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