Closing of psychiatric hospital favored

March 10, 1994|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Sun Staff Writer

One of the three regional state psychiatric hospitals in Central Maryland should be closed by the year 2000, according to a state task force studying the issue.

The draft report did not recommend which of the three -- Crownsville Hospital Center in Crownsville, Spring Grove Hospital Center in Catonsville or Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville -- should be closed.

Instead, the task force has scheduled public forums next month to gauge community sentiment in the five counties that would be most affected by a hospital closing.

State health officials will consider the information gathered at these forums as they make decisions on the future of the hospitals, said Oscar Morgan, acting director of the state Mental Hygiene Administration.

The task force was formed a year ago to study efficiency in state hospitals and to continue the state's effort to care for individuals with serious mental illnesses in community-based settings, instead of psychiatric hospitals, Mr. Morgan said.

According to the draft report, the task force focused its attention on the three hospitals in Central Maryland because closing a smaller facility -- for example, one on the Eastern Shore or in Western Maryland -- would result in the loss of mental health services in an already under-served area.

Springfield is the largest of the three under consideration, with an average daily inpatient population of 421 expected in fiscal 1995, Mr. Morgan said. Spring Grove would have 305 expected inpatients and Crownsville 244.

Springfield has 1,070 full- and part-time employees, Spring Grove 751, and Crownsville 659, said Tim Santini of the Mental Hygiene Administration. These are employees in the state merit system and don't include contractual employees, he said.

Marguerite Bridge, president of the state Alliance for the Mentally Ill, said her group supports the closing of one hospital if the money saved is channeled into community services for the mentally ill, such as housing, day programs and case management.

"The trend has been more and more toward deinstitutionalization to help people live as normally as possible in the community," she said. "You still have to maintain a certain number of hospital beds because a certain number [of patients] can never leave and people in crisis need to be stabilized."

The draft report says the task force supports closing a hospital only if certain conditions are met.

These include: the allocation of money for strong community mental health services and alternative hospital programs; providing employees of the closed hospital with career development and retraining, and assessing the economic impact of a hospital's closing on a community.

The report also says the county in which a hospital is closed must have a core service agency overseeing and coordinating mental health services to help patients make the transition to the community.

Core service agencies are endorsed and funded by the Mental Hygiene Administration and are part of an effort to decentralize decisions about local mental health services. Currently, 14 counties and Baltimore are served by such agencies.

The draft report also discusses what to do with the vacant buildings and grounds of a closed hospital.

It notes that the state Department of Corrections has expressed interest in moving some operations to Springfield and that the University of Maryland at Baltimore has often indicated interest in the Spring Grove property.

The report also points out that Springfield and Spring Grove have potential for residential, industrial and commercial development, whereas Crownsville has limited development potential because of surrounding wetlands.

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