Troubled Spring Grove lacks required citizens advisory board

State law is clear: Every psychiatric hospital operated by the Maryland Department of Health must have a citizens advisory board to help consult with its administrators.

Each does except one — the troubled Spring Grove Hospital Center in Catonsville.

By law, the advisory board at Spring Grove is made up of nine members. There are now nine vacancies — and there have been for years.

Health department spokeswoman Brittany Fowler acknowledged that the Citizens Advisory Board for Spring Grove Hospital Center has been inactive since 2013 and perhaps even longer.

“It is unclear why previous secretaries did not appoint members,” she said.

A check of past editions of the Maryland Manual indicates that the board has been moribund though several gubernatorial administrations. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has taken no steps to reconstitute the board. Neither did Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, who made no appointments after the terms of the last three members expired, nor Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Former members recall that the board met during the 1990s, when Democrat Parris N. Glendening was governor. But by the end of his term, it had more vacancies than members.

Lucien Parsley, managing attorney at Disability Rights Maryland, said she was not familiar with the requirement until The Baltimore Sun brought it to the group’s attention. But she said the department’s failure to comply raises concerns.

“More oversight is probably better than less,” Parsley said.

The Baltimore Sun reported last month that Spring Grove experienced a spike in the number of assaults by patients on staff during the first half of this year. Meanwhile, the institution has had a persistent problem filling vacant positions, especially for nurses and psychiatrists. Unions representing the workers there insist the assaults and vacancy levels are connected. Management disagrees.

Last month, just days before the article on assaults was published, longtime Spring Grove CEO Andrea Braid left her job.

After she was contacted by The Baltimore Sun, Fowler said acting Secretary Dennis R. Schrader has taken “proactive steps to recruit members for these voluntary and unpaid positions, which are traditionally difficult to fill. This recruitment effort will remain a focus until all nine positions have been filled and the board is active.”

mdresser@baltsun.com

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