Springfield's Murky Future

March 31, 1994

While the fate of Springfield Hospital Center has yet to be decided, there is a strong likelihood that the state's Mental Hygiene Administration may ultimately close it. A recent report recommends that Maryland shut at least one of the three state hospitals -- Springfield, Spring Grove and Crownsville -- in the Baltimore metropolitan region.

The development of drugs to treat the symptoms of severe mental illness has enabled many patients to live in the community and has reduced the need to maintain large residential psychiatric hospitals. Although community-based mental health centers have not developed as they were intended and still have many problems providing adequate care, the national trend is to deinstitutionalize as many mentally ill patients as feasible.

Although Springfield, Maryland's second oldest state mental hospital, has been providing care for a century, it is vulnerable. To keep it open, supporters must demonstrate that it can efficiently deliver psychiatric care to people who can't obtain it anywhere else. The task force evaluating the three metropolitan hospitals is conducting community forums, including one from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. April 7 at Carroll Community College.

As much as the South Carroll community might like to see Springfield continue operating as a mental hospital, residents should be prepared for something else. Springfield's patient count has been dropping each year; its current daily count averages about 400 -- half of what it was just three years ago.

Despite the drop, Springfield continues to be a large employer, providing jobs for nearly 1,000 people.

South Carroll residents have two concerns should the facility close: the loss of jobs and the potential uses the state might have for Springfield's 500 acres. Residents living nearby fear the large site could house a correctional facility. Rumors of a juvenile facility or a prison for aging lifers have circulated through the community for months. Residents have opposed any of these uses and will continue to do so.

Very little thought has been given to alternative uses for Springfield. It is probably a good time for the community and local leaders to begin thinking about some possibilities before it is too late and others have already made their decisions.

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