Retirement offer reduces hospital staff More than 10% of 985 employees at Springfield leaving

Incentive 'too tempting'

Numbers exceed those at Spring Grove and Crownsville

September 26, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Springfield Hospital Center, one of Carroll County's largest employers, is losing more than 10 percent of its 985-member staff to an early-retirement offer from the state.

Although it is unclear how the departure of 106 employees will affect services, the Sykesville hospital will lose much of its institutional memory.

By July, such key employees as the nursing, dietary, social work and maintenance directors will have joined the exodus from the century-old hospital for the mentally ill.

"We have much larger numbers than any other large facility in the state," said Paula Langmead, Springfield's superintendent.

At other state hospitals for the mentally ill, the numbers are lower. At Spring Grove in Catonsville, 58 of 846 employees are leaving; at Crownsville in Anne Arundel County, 62 of 585 are retiring.

The state Department of Management and Budget had projected that about 3,000 employees from various agencies would take early retirement; 2,293 did.

By law, 60 percent of the positions must be abolished. Supervisors may replace 40 percent of the retirees.

Langmead has asked that Springfield be allowed to replace 60 percent of its departing employees, a decision that will be left to Gov. Parris N. Glendening. As a result of the incentive program, the hospital is losing 46 nursing positions -- some of them administrative -- and has asked to replace at least 23 of them.

"If I can replace 60 percent, I feel confident we will retain the current 2.76 staff-to-patient ratio," Langmead said. "At 40 percent, we would have to increase our per diem nurses [part-time employees] and contractual workers."

The number of patients at Springfield is lower than it was last year, and the hospital recently closed a 30-bed ward.

About 70 Springfield employees will leave Tuesday. The rest have staggered departure dates extending to June 30, 1997, allowing time to train replacements if they are hired.

The retirement program, offered to about 7,500 employees statewide, allows early retirement with a sharply reduced penalty for those with 25 years of service. The added incentive of a month's extra retirement pay for every year of employment was enough to convince many long-term employees, Langmead said.

"With no raises coming and no advancement, the incentive was too tempting," said Robert E. Lippy, 61. "Anyone who talked to a financial planner would take the offer. I would make more money staying home that I would working every day."

The decision was difficult for Lippy, special projects coordinator at the hospital since 1959.

"I know the hospital inside and out," he said. "I like the job and the direction the hospital is going as far as patient care is concerned."

He plans to keep working during his retirement. He hopes to continue training health care workers in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and management of violent behavior, a program he developed.

His wife, Karen Lippy, director of nursing, also is leaving Springfield and is considering several job offers.

At age 45, Brenda K. Myers is retiring from the personnel specialist job she has held for 25 years and plans to start a new career eventually. The program will give her flexibility, she said.

"I am hoping I won't be working at all at 60," she said.

The fear that Springfield might close motivated many employees, Myers and Lippy said.

"The hospital could close," Lippy said. "You could lose your job or be transferred, and you wouldn't get the incentive."

The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has said that it will close one of the three hospitals for the mentally ill -- Springfield, Crownsville or Spring Grove -- by 2000. No decision will be made until after the November 1998 elections, Langmead said.

The early-retirement program will save taxpayers an estimated $10 million in the current fiscal year.

Over the next four years, the savings could increase to $30 million a year, depending on which positions are vacated.

Pub Date: 9/26/96

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