Task force told to keep center open

May 03, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

More than 40 people questioned a state task force last night and urged its members not to close Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville.

The proposed consolidation of Springfield and two other state hospitals -- Crownsville and Spring Grove -- is a "political maneuver which began years ago with deinstitutionalization," said Janice Becker, an advocate for the mentally ill. Services have not keep pace with the policy, she added.

Last month, the Task Force to Consider the Feasibility of Consolidation of State Hospitals Citizen Forum had to cancel its meeting for lack of space.

Last night, Westminster High School had room for the more than 200 people who attended the panel's public hearing.

All of those who spoke said Springfield should remain open, and many of the speakers said the state should not close any of the three hospitals. State health officials are considering closing one of the three by the year 2000.

"The country is still not able to implement 1963 legislation to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill," said Dr. Diane Taylor, of Springfield's staff. "How will we do it in just six years?"

Charles Shacochis, president of the South Carroll Rotary Club, said the deinstitutionalization trend puts the most helpless people on the streets.

The Sykesville hospital "provides an asylum of safe care and should be there when we need it," said Carol Mathis, director of Carroll's community rehabilitation programs.

Debbie Hilliard, a former employee at Springfield, said the facility is "consistently under-budget despite repeated cuts."

"Why close the only cow in three pastures that is producing milk?" she asked.

Charles Zeleski, county director of Environmental Health, won loud applause when he said, "The real issue is where are more beds for the mentally ill, as opposed to which hospital we are going to close." State health centers fill an acute need for patients who cannot be served by community-based programs, he said.

"Now is not the time to create more and larger cracks for people to fall through," he said, as he spoke of the failure of deinstitutionalization and the need for more housing for the homeless, about 25 percent of whom are mentally ill.

"Carroll County has seen an increase in the number of mentally ill patients and has no community shelters for them," said Jolene Sullivan, a county official who read a statement from County Commissioner Julia W. Gouge.

Closing Springfield would have a domino effect on area businesses, and the well-being of the more than 600 Carroll residents who work at the center "has to be a priority," Ms. Gouge said in her statement.

Charles Young, a 31-year Springfield employee, said, "No one is immune to insanity. Stop and think twice [about] what you are doing."

Paula Langmead, acting director at Springfield, urged "an in-depth study of patient groups who have had difficulty in community placements."

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