Sheppard Pratt to move Howard branch to Elkridge

Sheppard Pratt Health Systems is making plans to move its 92-bed Howard County psychiatric hospital from leased space at the former Taylor Manor Hospital in Ellicott City to a new campus near Interstate 95 in Elkridge, where officials said easy access in a developing area would help their programs grow.

Towson-based Sheppard Pratt purchased 40 acres between I-95 and a cemetary that faces U.S. 1 in November for $9 million. The move will likely take years to accomplish.

The new facility would be situated in one of the most active development and transportation corridors in Central Maryland, close to mass transit, highways and Anne Arundel County, where thousands of federal defense jobs are headed.

Officials said the move was largely prompted by the need to relocate from an aging facility where the hospital's future is uncertain. The area around the 60-acre Ellicott City campus was an isolated rural hilltop when the Taylor family opened a private psychiatric hospital there in 1939 but is now surrounded by upscale neighborhoods of more than 1,000 homes developed by the third-generation family landowners.

The new facility would continue Sheppard Pratt's transformation from a model in which often-wealthy patients once stayed for months to a diversified, nonprofit, regional mental health provider with more outpatient, short-term treatment. Sheppard Pratt now has 2,300 employees and 37 programs from Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore and in Northern Virginia.

"I think a lot has changed in the mental health field as to how individuals are treated," said Daraius Irani, director of applied economics at Towson University's Regional Economic Studies Institute. "In a business sense, it makes more sense to be in a central location."

But finding a place for a mental health facility can be difficult.

"There are very few parcels that work in [Howard] county," said Bonnie B. Katz, Sheppard Pratt's vice president for development. "We think it's a good location, because it gets us closer to Anne Arundel County, and the road system is great. There are a lot more options than where we are now."

In 2005, the hospital opened a $65 million medical facility in Towson, part of a $92 million overhaul of the 1891 campus built on what was once a 360-acre farm.

Katz said no plans have been prepared for what would be a "state-of-the-art" facility in Elkridge because the move is still years away.

Sheppard Pratt leased the old Taylor Manor hospital in 2002, saving the family-owned hospital from a long financial decline that afflicted many old, residential-style psychiatric hospitals as use of insurance grew and treatment programs changed. The Taylors, with century-old roots in Ellicott City, have been developing their nearby acreage for years. The main building of the hospital campus is a white one-story structure that dates to the 1960s.

Katz said Dr. Bruce Taylor is "a wonderful landlord, but he's got development plans."

Taylor said construction work will start soon on Autumn River, a 104-unit housing development across College Avenue from the current hospital grounds. Taylor said he expects to submit a proposal to Howard County officials within a year for an apartment building or two for seniors on the edges of the hospital property, but plans are not complete.

He's explored using his family's hospital campus as a corporate retreat or for some other institutional use, but said that doesn't look likely and "I'm not about to go back into the hospital business."

The Ellicott City hospital campus will eventually be linked with nearby residential communities, and Taylor wants to build a traffic circle and a new hospital entrance on College Avenue. Planning new communities that will fit into the area takes "about 10 years," Taylor said. "We're looking forward to something that would be a nice asset."

However, some community leaders say there are too many new homes now in the hilly, once-rural area above historic Ellicott City's Main Street.

"I'm saddened, personally, by that whole College Avenue," said Cathy Hudson, an Elkridge preservationist and president of the Howard County Citizens Association. "It's just such a unique road," winding through the wooded area above the Patapsco River. "It's too dense."

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