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Sheppard Pratt facility receives several upgrades

The $93 million renovation of one of the nation's oldest psychiatric care facilities is designed to accent the acclaimed institution's reputation.

Sheppard Pratt Health System's new complex in Towson will include a four-story hospital with 192 beds. A gym will be attached. Some of the 113-year-old buildings will be upgraded and used for a resident adolescent program, outpatient therapy services and administrative offices.

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For the first time, the hospital will have a separate ambulance entrance. Rooms will have private bathrooms to replace dormitory-like facilities, and visitors will enter through a separate corridor to give patients the privacy they need, said Sheppard Pratt spokeswoman Bonnie B. Katz.

There's a new art gallery and an outdoor labyrinth, in keeping with Sheppard Pratt's tradition of providing a bucolic "healing environment" for patients, Katz said.

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The new 240,000-square-foot hospital complex and other renovations are expected to be completed next spring.

In an industry that saw hospitals close or reduce programs over the past several years despite an increased demand for psychiatric services, Sheppard Pratt has maintained its quality of care and hold on the market, said Mark Covall, executive director of the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems in Washington.

"In the long run ... they will be a major provider of behavioral health care," Covall said.

Psychiatric care

Sheppard Pratt, opened in 1891, operates its flagship inpatient psychiatric hospital on its 86-acre campus in Towson. It runs another hospital in Howard County and manages psychiatric services for hospitals across Maryland and Virginia. Its services include day hospitals, special-education schools, outpatient programs and community outreach programs.

Sheppard Pratt admits more than 6,000 patients each year and serves more than 34,000 people through 30 programs. It handles 16 percent of the state's adult psychiatric hospitalizations and 41 percent of the state's child admissions.

Despite the recent boom in hospital construction, building among the nation's behavioral health care centers stagnated. Covall recalled only one other new project, a $27 million hospital in Maine.

"This is a major undertaking," said Katz, the Sheppard Pratt spokeswoman.

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Average stay is 9 days

Hospital administrators have planned to improve the buildings for about 10 years as it became clear that the century-old structures could not meet the needs of 21st-century patients, Katz said.

Sheppard Pratt was designed during a time when patients stayed for months; the average stay now is about nine days.

According to Katz, the old buildings lack space and privacy, as well as adequate bathroom and dining facilities. Security needs are often difficult to meet. The old buildings have been difficult to wire for computers.

"The trustees wanted to make certain that we served patients well into the next century," she said.

Until 2000, funding constraints prohibited the hospital system from progressing with its plans. That year, Sheppard Pratt sold 14 acres to neighboring Greater Baltimore Medical Center, which gave it a "nest egg" to work with, Katz said.

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"In this business, you have to take risks to meet community need," said Covall, the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems official. "This is definitely a good move."


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