Overflow crowd creates fire hazard, delaying forum on Springfield's future

April 08, 1994|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Sun Staff Writer

More than 200 people went to Carroll Community College last night for a citizens forum on the future of Springfield Hospital Center, but the meeting was abruptly halted because officials were concerned that the crowd violated fire regulations.

"The room is severely overcrowded as well as the hallway," said David Warner, the community college's evening administrative assistant.

"When we have an unsafe condition, we have to remedy it."

The meeting had been scheduled by a state task force that last month recommended that one of the three state mental hospitals be closed by 2000.

In addition to Springfield in Sykesville, Spring Grove Hospital Center in Catonsville and Crownsville Hospital Center in Crownsville are being studied for possible closing.

Last night's forum was to be the first of five meetings to gather public opinion on the report.

The event drew a crowd that overflowed into the hallway.

Task force Chairman James R. Stanton had started to present an overview of the task force report when County Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy -- who had been standing in the hall -- interrupted him.

"The fire marshal will be here shortly to declare overcrowding. Can't we have this meeting at another time in a bigger place?" Mr. Lippy said.

Mr. Stanton agreed.

Apologizing for the inconvenience, Mr. Stanton said that everyone who had signed up for the meeting would be notified by mail when the forum is rescheduled, probably within two weeks.

Many who attended the meeting said the task force should have expected the crowd.

"I think they should have known ahead of time that this was likely to happen and should have had an alternative plan," said Janice Becker, a board member of the state Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

"I don't think they realize how closely the [Sykesville] community and Springfield work sometimes," said Tom Lynch, training coordinator at Springfield, referring to many Sykesville residents and Springfield employees being united in their opposition to closing Springfield.

Bill Hudson, an international vice president with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said Mr. Lippy's intervention demonstrated the county's interest in the future of Springfield.

"Personally, I think we're moving in the wrong direction," Mr. Hudson said. "When you look at the thousands of homeless on the street today, more than 60 percent are mentally ill. Why are we closing down facilities when we should be acting more humanely?"

At the beginning of the meeting, Mr. Stanton said that the task force report is in line with a national trend to care for the mentally ill in communities rather than hospitals.

"The idea of closing public mental hospitals is an idea being considered all over this country," Mr. Stanton said.

"The task force is extremely concerned that we don't repeat the mistakes of other states who weren't as successful doing it in a way that's humane and proper."

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