Even as the state's Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center has been turning away patients despite court orders to admit them, citing a lack of beds, one of the facility's wards remains vacant.
Dr. Barbara Bazron, head of the state's Behavioral Health Administration, testified that a ward remains empty at the psychiatric facility during a contempt-of-court hearing last week involving her and other high-ranking officials of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Gale Rasin held the hearing to make state officials say on the record why the department had disregarded several recent court orders to admit defendants to Perkins, the state facility that cares for the most dangerous offenders with mental disorders. The individuals involved have been admitted since, after delays of several weeks, but Rasin still demanded an explanation why her orders were not initially honored.
Health department officials have said they face a "crisis" due to a shortage of beds, but Bazron confirmed the existence of an empty ward at Perkins. Bazron told the judge she did not know whether there were other vacant wards at other state mental health facilities.
A department spokesman would not disclose the bed capacity or the number of employees needed to staff it. He said he did not know how long it had been empty or why it had been closed, because that happened during a previous gubernatorial administration.
"Health and Mental Hygiene is working through how this ward might be employed to help address the census challenges faced by Maryland's system," said spokesman Christopher Garrett.
As of last week, there were 69 people on the waiting list for beds at state mental hospitals, Bazron said. That number had been reduced from 84 in early June, she said, as the department stepped up efforts to place patients who are ready to leave hospitals in community treatment settings.
"We're making some progress," Bazron said.
Rasin adjourned the hearing until Thursday, when Health Secretary Van T. Mitchell is expected to testify.