'It would be a mistake to close Spring Grove'

April 12, 1994|By Robert Erlandson | Robert Erlandson,Sun Staff Writer

Battle lines were drawn last night for what promises to be a bitter years-long fight over the projected turn-of-the-century closing of one of the three Central Maryland psychiatric hospitals.

The hospitals are Spring Grove in Catonsville, Crownsville in Anne Arundel County and Springfield in Sykesville, Carroll County.

State-employee unions oppose closing any of the three, and officials of each are ready to fight for their hospital.

The Mental Health Association of Maryland agrees with the plan and wants to see all three hospitals closed by 2010 as long as any fiscal savings are redirected toward community mental health care and rehabilitation.

A state task force worked for a year before recommending that one hospital be closed by 2000 under conditions including that core service agencies -- the various nonprofit organizations that provide service to patients when they leave the hospitals -- be functioning effectively to oversee the transition of patients from the hospital to community settings and to continue their care.

Last night's meeting at Catonsville High School, attended by about 75 people, was the first of five public forums the task force has planned to hear public and employee reaction before making a final recommendation on which hospital to close, probably by late summer or early fall.

Spring Grove has been the subject of speculation as the likeliest candidate but Dr. Mark Pecevich, who became superintendent six months ago, began his fight to save it last night. "I would be wary of closing any of them but it would be a mistake to close Spring Grove. It is the training site for the hospitals in the area in a dozen different disciplines," Dr. Pecevich said. "We have easy access to the hospitals and to public transportation."

He said Spring Grove is the only affiliate with the University of Maryland Medical School, houses the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center sponsored by the university and is known for its schizophrenia work.

Michele Minor spoke for Council 92 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to oppose closing any hospital, not only because of job losses among employees, but because "it is our belief that clients should be in the least restrictive environment, and the private and nonprofit hospitals will gain more money and resources at the expense of the state. Developers want to build houses on this property."

Rosemary Wertz of the Maryland Classified Employees Association, also opposed any closings. "We have a higher level of care in the hospitals than in group homes," she said.

Ms. Wertz said the state will have to appropriate additional millions of dollars -- which will not come from the hospital budgets -- to get the core support agencies operating before any patients are transferred from the hospital. "That's new money" that the state can ill afford as it continues to recover from the recession, she said.

A meeting last week in Carroll County was supposed to be the first but it was postponed until 7 p.m. May 2 at Westminster High School.

Future hearings

Last night's public forum in Catonsville on the proposal to close one of three state mental hospitals sometime after the year 2000 was the first of five scheduled by the State Mental Hygiene Administration.

The other meetings will be:

* Tomorrow from 7.30 p.m. to 9.30 p.m. in the Joint Committee Hearing Room of the Legislative Services Building, 90 State Circle, Annapolis.

* April 20 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the Prince George's County Council Chamber in the County Administration Building, 14741 Governor Oden Bowie Drive, Rockville.

* April 25 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the Montgomery County Executive Office, Lobby Level Auditorium, 101 Monroe St., Rockville.

* May 2 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Westminster High School Auditorium, Washington Road, Westminster. The Carroll County meeting was scheduled originally April 7 at Carroll Community College but was postponed and moved after the fire marshal ruled the overflow crowd presented a potential danger.

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