K-9 training at Springfield draws concern

April 06, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

Maryland State Police are training 10 K-9 dogs and their handlers at a facility the department opened at Springfield Hospital Center about two months ago.

Residents are concerned that they were not notified about the K-9 school. They also are worried about other potential uses for the hospital campus that have surfaced recently.

Despite a year-old promise from the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to keep South Carroll residents informed of events at Springfield, residents say they learned of the K-9 school only a week ago -- from hospital employees.

The training facility is housed in the Martin Gross building on the Springfield campus just outside Sykesville.

"The current class is 10 and will graduate April 15," said Lt. Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman. "No dogs are kept overnight."

Lieutenant Shipley said he knows of no other police plans to use hospital facilities.

"The K-9 school is not common knowledge," said Kathleen Horneman, president of the South Carroll Coalition. "And, it sets up a pattern of secrecy that bothers me."

If Springfield Hospital Center closes, residents of nearby communities want to know when, why and how.

They also have asked state officials to keep them informed of plans for the 500-acre site.

Coalition members daily deflect rumors that the hospital may close to allow expansion of the Central Laundry Facility, a minimum security prison on adjacent land, or allow the creation of a prison for aging convicts who are serving life terms.

Employees also have told coalition members that the state Department of Juvenile Services is again considering converting the Lane Building at Springfield into a detention center.

The coalition will voice its concerns about all these issues at the Task Force to Consider the Feasibility of Consolidation of State Hospitals Citizen Forum, which meets at 7 p.m. tomorrow at Carroll Community College.

Dr. Marcio V. Pinheiro, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said he is concerned that the task force, which recommended closing one of the three hospitals, didn't include any mental health clinicians.

Dr. Pinheiro suggested to the Mental Health Administration that the task force should seek a clinical perspective in its future work.

Task force members include mental health advocates, judges, legislators and state health officials.

Dr. Pinheiro supports the state Mental Hygiene Administration's goal of moving toward community-based programs for the mentally ill, but he said it would be a mistake to close one of the three state mental hospitals in Central Maryland.

He said all of the hospitals will decrease their inpatient DTC populations naturally, as the number of community programs increases.

"You cannot by decree decide to close a hospital in a community; it will interfere with natural processes between hospitals and community programs," Dr. Pinheiro said.

"Once they decide one [hospital] will be closed, each one is trying to defend its turf and nobody is looking at the whole scenario of mental health," he said.

Dr. Pinheiro said the financial savings to be gained from closing one of the hospitals are not worth the disruption to patients and their families. "I'm not so sure the human suffering of closing a hospital is going to be worth whatever money is saved," he said.

Ms. Horneman said she fears that state officials "will consider alternate uses for the site without input from those closely involved with the patients."

Employees there, who are worried about job security, have asked the coalition to speak for them at the forum, said Ms. Horneman.

Betty Jean Maus, volunteer coordinator at the hospital, said she will attend the meeting in the hope she will "find out something" and "to get our politicians behind efforts" to keep Springfield opened.

"We are all like a family here," said Ms. Maus, who has worked at the hospital for 39 years. "We don't want all this controversy to filter to our patients and upset them. We all really care what happens to them."

Ms. Maus said she does not think the state has the facilities to house Springfield's 421 patients elsewhere.

"The state is not prepared, and we don't need anymore homeless," said Ms. Maus.

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