Sheppard Pratt to expand and renovate

Officials announce $80 million project for Towson hospital

March 07, 2002|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Sheppard Pratt Health System announced yesterday an ambitious $80 million plan to build an addition and renovate two aging wings at its hospital, all as part of a strategy to cement the system's reputation as a premier provider of inpatient psychiatric care.

The project, which will add 165,000 square feet of hospital space and replace 196 beds, is the latest in a series of moves at the 111-year-old campus on North Charles Street as it responds to changes in the mental health industry.

Officials said yesterday that the new wing will bring the hospital - whose patients are housed in a building dating to 1891 - into the 21st century.

"This will be a state-of-the-art facility for modern psychiatric care," said Dr. Steven S. Sharfstein, president and chief executive officer of Sheppard Pratt, who views the project as critical to the institution's well-being. "It's a real commitment to our future."

"I feel strongly that if you stand still, you won't survive," he added.

The project appears to run counter to a national trend that emphasizes outpatient care. New psychiatric medications, tougher insurance restrictions and an increase in the number of outpatient facilities have reduced stays in psychiatric hospitals.

That's also true at Sheppard Pratt, which has 322 licensed beds, but used 176 last year. In 1986, the average patient stay was 76 days. Today, patients stay an average of eight days. As a result, most of Sheppard Pratt's services are focused on outpatient treatment.

But Sheppard Pratt officials say the new project reflects the need for longer stays. Last year, about 5,500 patients were admitted at Sheppard Pratt, a number that officials expect to rise to 6,000 by 2005, when the project is scheduled to be finished.

"There will always be a need for hospitalization," Sharfstein said. "We want to have a first-class facility for them."

Others in the mental health industry agree.

"This is obviously a big investment," said Monica Oss, president of Open Minds, a research and consulting firm in Gettysburg, Pa. "This is really going to put them into the 21st century."

The move is the latest in a flurry of changes by the state's leading provider of psychiatric services. Last year, Sheppard Pratt sold 14 acres of its 80-acre campus to neighboring Greater Baltimore Medical Center. Sheppard Pratt also leased 13.7 acres to a private contractor who is building dormitories for Towson University.

Those moves seek to turn around a system that for six of the past eight years has finished with budget deficits of up to $1.3 million. The shortfalls were due to a drop in inpatient care, the move to alternative outpatient programs and declining Medicaid reimbursements, officials have said.

Sharfstein said the nonprofit hospital will be relying on everything from government grants to private and foundation philanthropy to help pay for the addition and for renovations to the "A" and "B" wings, built in 1891 and later linked by an administration building.

"We're looking for another Moses Sheppard and Enoch Pratt," Sharfstein said, referring to the hospital's 19th-century benefactors.

Key to the project will be the renovation of the "A" and "B" wings, where patients are housed. They have few single rooms or lavatories and little meeting space, officials said.

Once the project is complete, the two wings will be used for long-term care. Patients admitted to the new addition - which will most likely be attached to the "A" wing - will stay for an average of eight days.

Barbara Bellack, executive director for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in Maryland, welcomed news of the new facilities.

"Our families are pleased that patients are going to have more privacy and more dignity in these settings," Bellack said.

State officials also welcomed the news.

"We think it's a great thing for Sheppard Pratt as a hospital and the community at large," said Oscar L. Morgan, director of the state Mental Hygiene Administration. "I'm glad to see their dream come to fruition."

The expansion also has the support of neighborhood groups, said Conrad Poniatowski, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations.

"Sheppard Pratt is one of the oldest institutions in Towson," Poniatowski said. "Sheppard Pratt is valuable to us, and they're going to stay there."

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