More than 250 people opposing the state's plan to close its Crownsville mental hospital argued last night that shutting the 90-year-old facility will produce more costs than savings.
"This is not rocket science. I'm not even an accountant. I'm a social worker," said Michael McGuiness, who works at a drug treatment center that leases space in the hospital complex. "You're looking in the wrong direction."
Officials have said closing the 200-bed Crownsville Hospital Center would save more than $11 million next year. Of that, $5 million would go toward community mental health services and nearly $1 million would pay for renovations at a hospital where many of the patients would be moved, they said.
At last night's town meeting organized by Del. David G. Boschert, a Republican who represents the area that includes the hospital, as many as 20 people lined an aisle of the Annapolis High School auditorium to point out what they say are overlooked costs of closing Crownsville.
They wore pins saying "Save Crownsville" and directed their comments to Boschert, three other Anne Arundel County delegates and Dr. Brian Hepburn, director of the state's Mental Hygiene Administration.
Dr. Brian Sims, a psychiatrist at the Crownsville hospital, said that moving his patients would force him to provide extra treatment with additional costs. "If it closes, I can count on 25 to 30 percent of my patients decomposing," he said in an interview with The Sun. "Their overall mental state will worsen."
Clients and workers at Second Genesis, including McGuiness, made up nearly half the crowd. The treatment center leases two buildings at Crownsville for $1 a year each. They said closing the hospital would force them off the property and out of business.
"I like to believe that some things are priceless, like saving lives," said David Townes, 45, a client in a court-ordered treatment program run by Second Genesis.
Some of the other social service agency tenants that rent space at Crownsville made the same argument.
The capacity of the state's mental health hospitals has dwindled during the past 21 years to about 1,200 beds from 4,400. But nearly all of the system's facilities have remained open, so the state has considered closing Crownsville, Spring Grove Hospital Center in Catonsville or Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville.
Last month, the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene responded to a request from the legislature and selected Crownsville for closure. It recommended transferring patients to other facilities, including Spring Grove.
Spring Grove and Crownsville are about a century old, and officials at each are seeking roughly $100 million for renovations.
Local residents argued last night that closing Crownsville could lead to the development of the 633-acre campus, further jamming the roads around it.
Mary and Lindsay Ervin, a Crofton couple whose 25-year-old son received treatment at Crownsville last year, said having a state facility in Arundel allowed them to participate in his treatment.
They asked state officials to listen to their son's words, which Mary Ervin repeated: "You guys are my lifeline."