Hospital unveils plans for expansion

Renovations, building set for Sheppard Pratt

April 24, 2003|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Promising to make Sheppard Pratt Health System the leading psychiatric institution in the country while maintaining the feel of its 19th-century roots, officials unveiled plans yesterday for a $90 million expansion and renovation project that will include a 200,000-square-foot inpatient hospital.

None of the historic buildings on Sheppard Pratt's 110-acre Towson campus will be demolished in the construction, which will begin next month. The new building is designed to complement the Victorian architecture of the existing buildings, said Dr. Steven S. Sharfstein, president and chief executive officer of Sheppard Pratt Health System.

"We tried to stay as true as we could to the Sheppard Pratt heritage," Sharfstein said. "`Do everything for the comfort of the patient.' That's what Sheppard said."

The original Sheppard Pratt buildings, constructed from 1860 to 1891, represented a revolution in the treatment of psychiatric disorders, and the new building, while visually paying homage to that tradition, will be equally important in the institution's evolution to take advantage of new treatment methods and to reflect the realities of managed care, Sharfstein said.

Some of the changes are basic. The hospital has no obvious entrance, but the new, unnamed building will have a main entryway with a reception area and lobby gift shop, like other hospitals. It will also have a secluded admittance area and ambulance dock to better seclude patients from visitors.

All of the 192 rooms will be private and have private baths. Inpatient rooms now can have as many as five people in them, Sharfstein said. The new hospital will also have more space dedicated for counseling meetings, dining and other activities, he said.

"The staff has indicated to us over and over again they could do a much more effective job in a modern space," Sharfstein said.

Last year, several buildings on the Sheppard Pratt campus were placed on the county's landmarks list. Some historical preservationists sought to protect several more buildings on the campus, but institution officials objected, saying the listing could hinder their ability to adapt to mental health care needs.

None of the structures that were left off the list will be affected in the current plan, Sharfstein said.

The project will be funded through a combination of donations, an equity contribution and the sale of tax-free bonds issued through the Maryland Health and Higher Educational Facilities Authority.

Once work on the new hospital building is complete, renovations will begin on the existing hospital buildings, which will house administrative, clinical and residential programs.

Sheppard Pratt's original buildings were designed when mental health patients were institutionalized for long periods of time, but new treatments and insurance companies' reluctance to pay for such care have shortened the average inpatient stay at Sheppard Pratt to nine days compared with 50 a decade ago.

In the past 10 years, Sheppard Pratt has expanded its offerings to include two psychiatric hospitals as well as special education schools, residential treatment centers, day hospital programs, outpatient mental health centers, community housing and rehabilitation programs and other services.

Meanwhile, the hospital has found new uses for its land. In 2001, Sheppard Pratt sold 14 acres to neighboring Greater Baltimore Medical Center. And it has leased land for the construction of an apartment complex designed to accommodate college students.

Don Wright, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, said Sheppard Pratt has done an excellent job of keeping the community informed of its plans and accommodating community wishes.

Moreover, Wright says he is glad to see Sheppard Pratt make such a large commitment to Towson.

"They're a class act, and I'd hate to lose them," Wright said. "Once this is built, my gosh, where are they going to go? They're going to have everything."

Carol Allen, president of Historic Towson, said she has mixed feelings about the project. While she says she is upset to see any change to the landscape of the campus, she recognizes the ever-changing nature of mental health care and is glad to see the institution stay where it is for now.

"For the Towson area, Sheppard Pratt is like a cathedral in an old European town," she said. "It dominates the landscape. It casts a shadow, and hopefully it will continue to do that in a positive way."

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