The beds lie empty and waiting, blankets folded with military precision. The walls sport fresh paint in cheerful mint green and yellow.

All that's missing are the patients.

As Crownsville State Hospital prepares for the psychiatric victims of war, a foreboding hangs over the renovated rooms.

"We just hope the war doesn't last long enough for many soldiers to become patients," said hospital administrator Richmond Manigault.

The hospitalis prepared to accommodate up to 90 soldiers suffering from illnesses such as depression, anxiety or schizophrenia, Manigault said.

The hospital center has been on standby since February in the event that military hospitals such as the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington can't handle all the wounded.

Crownsville is one of 31 Maryland hospitals participating in the National Disaster Medical System, an emergency plan to treat the wounded in major disasters.

The system is a federal agency that coordinates the evacuation and transport of patients to hospitals during wars or disasters.

The hospital center has never received patients during a war, Manigault said.

Butthe preparation has heightened an esprit de corps among staff and medical workers, hospital officials say.

"With having this here, a lot of staff feel like they're directly involved in the war effort," said Helen Ladue, assistant superintendent.

Workers have pitched into renovate a vacant hospital building, scrubbing, patching up and painting.

Now, wards of beds, a sitting room and a dining room are ready, lacking only last-minute touches like new books and fresh flowers.

Medical personnel at Crownsville also have volunteered to workwith war patients in the event of a shortage of doctors and nurses, Manigault said.

But that shouldn't be necessary. If war casualtiesare sent to Crownsville, Maj. Constance Pope, a Crownsville nurse directing the project, would receive at least 24 hours' notice, and thefederal government would send the necessary staff.

Doctors would follow a basic regimen for war victims, with a multitreatment approach of psychiatric care, physical therapy and 24-hour on-call nursing care, along with group therapy and family therapy, said Manigault.

However, he's hoping that psychiatric patients from the gulf war willbe in better mental health than soldiers in past wars.

"Psych detachments, trained to deal with combat stress, are going right up to the front lines," Manigault said.

These psychiatric units offer support to soldiers before battles begin and counsel them right after conflict.

The military teams consist of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, neurophysical technicians and nurses -- "the whole nine yards," Manigault said.

"Soldiers will be immediately counseled. There's no record of this being done that close to the line in previous wars," he explained.

Manigault's 24-year-old niece, Michelle, is overseas with one such psychiatric team, the 531st Psychiatric Detachment Unit of Baltimore.

In a letter to her uncle dated Jan. 24, the young woman expressed concern about the allies' lack of rain boots and joked about the driving habits of the Saudis.

But she wasn't jesting about the mission of her unit, stationed near the Iraqi border in northern Saudi Arabia.

Teams from her unit have been traveling to the edges of the fighting to aid soldiers, she wrote.

"We pray for peace constantly," she ended her letter. "I guess we should also pray for safety."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad