Key Question in Springfield Debate

May 06, 1994

Lost in the debate over whether to close Springfield Hospital Center, the state psychiatric institution in South Carroll, is the fate of the very people it is intended to serve -- the severely mentally ill. Too much focus to this point has been on the impact the closing might have on the community.

At a recent hearing in Westminster, the clear sentiment was to keep Springfield open. Sykesville residents are afraid, with good reason, that if the large hospital is closed, bureaucrats will find other less desirable uses for its several hundred acres. Suggestions ranging from using the property as a prison for aging men serving life sentences or as a juvenile detention facility have already been floated.

With nearly 1,000 employees, Springfield is among Carroll County's largest employers. Workers are worried for their jobs.

But the needs of the community and employees must be secondary to those of the patients. In keeping with its program of placing the mentally ill in community treatment programs, the Mental Hygiene Administration is considering closing one of the three state hospitals in Central Maryland -- Springfield, Spring Grove in Baltimore County or Crownsville in Anne Arundel

County. A task force is conducting hearings and is expected to make recommendations later this year.

Before the task force can recommend closing any of these facilities it must determine that some other entity exists that is willing and able to accommodate the needs of the mentally ill in the community.

In Carroll County, the recently created Core Service Agencies is intended to provide assessment, supervision, care and treatment for those who leave the hospital. The county commissioners just approved creation of the CSA, after initially rejecting it. Carroll does not yet have a smoothly operating response to handle Springfield patients who would be released into the community. Before drastic changes are made at Springfield, the patients and community need to know that Carroll's CSA has sufficient resources to deal with the patients entrusted to its care. At this point and from the perspective of the patients, it would seem premature to consider closing the hospital. Officials must first come up with a plan to ensure that shutting one of these facilities does not thrust patients into communities ill-prepared to serve them.

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