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MD gives Spring Grove Hospital to UMBC, says it stays open for now

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Spring Grove Hospital Center is the second-oldest continuously operating psychiatric hospital in the country. Credit: Maryland Department of Health

The Maryland Board of Public Works voted two-to-one Wednesday to approve the transfer of Spring Grove Hospital Center’s 175-acre campus to the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

“This property that we're looking at we've determined is functionally obsolete, and … we have 33 buildings on the campus today that have been decommissioned,” state Health Secretary Dennis Schrader said during Wednesday’s meeting. “It's been an ongoing unfortunate neglect for the last 30 or 40 years.”

The Maryland Department of Health has outlined plans to close the hospital eventually, but, according to the agency’s published “Facilities Master Plan,” not for at least a decade.

Under the plan approved Wednesday, the health department, which operates the hospital, will sign a 10-year lease with options for two five-year renewals. The lease ends when the Department of Health has vacated the property, “which can occur at any point during the lease term,” according to the meeting documents.

Healthcare advocates worry transferring the property out of state ownership will accelerate plans to close the 375-bed psychiatric facility without plans to care for its patients, the majority of whom are “forensic patients,” receiving court-mandated treatment.

Rosemary Wertz, field coordinator for the labor union AFT Healthcare Maryland, said even with a new 20-bed unit added last fall, the hospital has a waiting list for beds.

“All five mental health facilities in the state of Maryland are at or near maximum capacity consistently,” Wertz said. “There are individuals in detention right now that should be in the hospital but are not because there are no beds.”

Comptroller Peter Franchot, the lone member of the three-person panel who voted against the property transfer, repeatedly asked why Schrader seemed to be in a rush to approve it in the last year of the Hogan Administration.

“We have eight months left in administration. We're going to run through the tape,” Schrader replied. “I'm going to be here until the very last minute of the very last day, and we can get a lot of work done in the next eight months.”

As for advocates’ concerns, Schrader said there is plenty of time to sort out the details.

“This is the beginning of the process, not the end,” he said.

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