Hospital's use worries neighbors

March 13, 1994|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Sun Staff Writer

The news that Springfield Hospital Center may close by 2000 has raised unsettling questions for South Carroll residents about its future use.

In the past year, the community has successfully fought attempts to house violent patients from another state facility at Springfield and has opposed plans to establish a state youth detention center on hospital grounds.

If Springfield is targeted for closing, residents are worried that another battle may be on the horizon.

A state task force recommended last week that one of the three regional state psychiatric hospitals in Central Maryland --

Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville, Crownsville Hospital Center in Crownsville or Spring Grove Hospital Center in Catonsville -- should be closed by the turn of the century.

The closing of one of the hospitals is in line with the state's efforts to care for the mentally ill in community-based settings rather than psychiatric hospitals, according a draft report from the task force.

Regarding future use of the facilities, the report says the properties would be suitable for use by state or local agencies. It notes that "the Department of Corrections has expressed interest in the past in expanding its utilization of Springfield."

Leonard A. Sipes, Jr., a spokesman with the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said the state has no plans to put prisoners on the Springfield property or on the adjacent 720 acres owned by the department.

"To my knowledge, there are no plans whatsoever to use any land on or near that facility to incarcerate inmates," Mr. Sipes said.

Plans are moving forward to build a driver-training facility for law enforcement officers on the land next to Springfield; construction could start as early as this year. In his capital budget, Gov. William Donald Schaefer requested $1.3 million for the project, said Ray Franklin, assistant director of the Police and Correctional Training Commissions.

For the past five years, the state has been looking into using some vacant buildings at Springfield to establish a training academy for law enforcement and correctional workers, including state police, natural resources police, and parole and probation workers.

The training academy has been delayed because of state budget constraints, Mr. Sipes said.

"There's a great need for this type of facility," Mr. Franklin said. "A lot of agencies spend a lot of money to send people out of state for training."

Despite assurances from state public safety and correctional officials that there are no plans to house inmates at Springfield, some hospital neighbors aren't convinced.

"They may say now that they're not going to have a prison facility, but the bottom line is it's their land, and they're going to do what they see fit," said Shelley Counts, a member of the South Carroll Coalition, which formed in response to last year's controversies with Springfield.

Phil Deitchman, a member of the Springfield Citizens Advisory Board and the South Carroll Coalition, said he doesn't trust the state's intentions when it comes to Springfield. His skepticism is based on past clashes between the Sykesville community and state health officials involving the hospital.

About a year ago, the coalition fought the state's plans to transfer 18 violent patients from Rosewood Center in Baltimore County to Springfield and to house juveniles awaiting trial in a 74-bed facility on the hospital grounds.

In Mr. Deitchman's opinion, if the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services goes ahead with a large-scale training facility, it will give the agency a "foothold" on the property.

"They're not going to stop there; they'll say, 'OK, we've got the training facility, let's continue,' " he predicted. "I think it's important that it be stopped now."

Eldersburg resident Angela Lee said she wonders how the state is going to come up with the money to establish a comprehensive police training facility. "We don't even have enough police officers on the street now," Ms. Lee said.

Kathy Horneman, president of the South Carroll Coalition, pointed out that the state already operates the Central Laundry Facility, a minimum-security prison, at Springfield. The fact that the operation doubled in size in the past two years leads some residents to believe that the Department of Corrections plans to expand further.

"It's been our suspicion that that would be a perfect site to build a new super prison," Ms. Horneman said.

Residents would like to see Springfield remain open as a hospital, she said.

"It provides over 1,500 jobs, and if they closed this facility, what do we do with the citizens in this area who need the Springfield services?" she asked.

Whatever is in store for Springfield, residents say they want to be included in the decision-making.

"We really have felt like an ignored neighbor for many years," Ms. Horneman said.

The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has scheduled a forum from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. April 7 in the County Office Building in Westminster to gather public opinion on the task force's recommendation.

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