While Springfield Hospital Center prepares its centennial celebration, the state may be preparing for its closure. The decision won't come until 1997, a year after the Sykesville hospital turns 100, but local officials "If the governor decides to close Springfield, then the battle begins," said Del. Richard N. Dixon, a Carroll Democrat.
County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown, a former Springfield employee, launched a defensive strategy Tuesday at a meeting of 12 community leaders, who will chair or work on subcommittees to promote Springfield.
"We don't know how much at risk Springfield could be," the commissioner said. "But, we should start now well ahead of the 1997 decision."
A hospital that employs 1,100, serves a population of 1.4 million in three counties and Baltimore and cares for more than 400 patients a day is an asset that Carroll County cannot afford to lose, committee members said.
"It takes a lot of incentives to bring in a company with 1,100 employees," said Jack Lyburn, county director of economic development. "Springfield is one of the county's top five employers. Its employees put a substantial amount of dollars back into this community."
No one minimized the hospital's value to the county.
"Springfield is an important institution that should get our full support," said Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman. "We should get behind it and see that it stays open as a hospital."
After two years of study, a task force has recommended that the state close one of three regional hospitals for the mentally ill. The governor, who will make the final decision, will close Springfield, Crownsville in Anne Arundel County or Spring Grove in Baltimore County. Springfield is the largest of the three, with the most beds and employees.
"I am totally committed to keeping Springfield open," said Mr. Dixon, who chairs the capital budget subcommittee of the General Assembly's Appropriations Committee. "It is much more important to our county than Spring Grove or Crownsville is to the counties they serve."
John Winningham, a member of the Springfield Citizens Advisory Council, said, "It comes down to politics. They won't close Crownsville because it's too small and can't be developed due to wetlands. The decision will be between Springfield and Spring Grove."
Paula Langmead, Springfield hospital superintendent, said that despite the growing movement to community-based care, there will always be a need for the inpatient services that Springfield provides.
"Admissions are rising steadily," she said. "We are overbooked, with a growing waiting list."
The hospital provides acute, intermediate and long-term care. Patients stay an average of 14 days, but many stay longer. Nearly 50 percent of admissions last year were for substance abuse.
"Planning is the most important part of our strategy," said Paul Hudson, executive director of the Maryland Classified Employees Association. "The more these grounds are utilized, the less likely the state will be to close this hospital."
Springfield, once a self-contained community with a working farm and its own fire and police departments, sprawls across 586 acres in South Carroll. Age, asbestos and lead paint have made unusable all but seven of its original 38 buildings. But, what remains in use offers patients the most modern and state-of-the art care available, Ms. Langmead said.
Mayor Herman, a contractor who specializes in restoration work, said the community must find ways to put the empty buildings to work.
"There are great buildings here, but they don't lend themselves to easy readaptation," Mr. Herman said. "It tears my heart out to see them empty. We should research ways to best utilize the hospital."
Many in the adjoining neighborhoods fear the state will close the hospital and build a prison on the grounds, the mayor said.
"I don't think people realize the significance, if the hospital should change hands and become something less desirable," he said.
Mr. Dixon put to rest one rumor that residents said they had heard. "There are no plans now to build a prison here, and I don't foresee any," he said.