Shut­tered men­tal hos­pi­tals cost state mil­lions an­nu­ally

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - By RACHEL BLUTH

Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice

— Six miles out­side An­napo­lis lie the de­cay­ing bones of a di­nosaur.

They don’t be­long to a pre­his­toric an­i­mal, but to Crownsville Hos­pi­tal Cen­ter, a mostly va­cant for­mer asy­lum that costs the state of Mary­land around a mil­lion dol­lars a year.

Many of the meth­ods used to treat men­tal ill­ness when Crownsville opened in 1911 have es­sen­tially gone ex­tinct.

The avail­abil­ity and qual­ity of med­i­ca­tions have in­creased, and providers are trend­ing to­ward treat­ment through com­mu­nity-based ser­vices, like psy­chi­atric re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, hous­ing and vo­ca­tional pro­grams, ac­cord­ing to Jeff Richards, the in­com­ing pres­i­dent of the Men­tal Health As­so­ci­a­tion of Mary­land and the CEO of Mo­saic Com­mu­nity Ser­vices.

“There’s so many peo­ple that prob­a­bly 20, 30, 40 years ago would have lived out their lives in one of those large in­sti­tu­tions (who) are liv­ing in the com­mu­nity and do­ing great with the right range of sup­port avail­able to them,” Richard­son said.

This means that large fa­cil­i­ties, like Crownsville, have be­come ob­so­lete. No longer did the state need to run a 500acre fa­cil­ity that could house 4,000-5,000 pa­tients. These peo­ple could re­ceive treat­ments in their com­mu­ni­ties while the stately brick build­ings rusted and aged.

Since the hos­pi­tal of­fi­cially closed in 2004, Crownsville has cost the state of Mary­land more than $13 mil­lion. Se­cu­rity guards roam the cam­pus, a mix of lawn and trees, pre­sid­ing over crum­bling walls, bro­ken win­dows and dark build­ings.

Van Mitchell, Mary­land sec­re­tary of health and men­tal hy­giene, has made get­ting these empty fa­cil­i­ties off his books a pri­or­ity since he was ap­pointed by Gov. Larry Ho­gan in 2015.

AN­NAPO­LIS

His depart­ment owns around 5 mil­lion square feet of real es­tate, and more than 53 per­cent of that is va­cant.

“If we were in the real es­tate busi­ness, we’d be out of busi­ness,” he likes to say.

Among the five non­op­er­a­tional hos­pi­tals the state owns — Crownsville, RICA South­ern Mary­land, Rose­wood, Up­per Shore and Bran­den­burg — the depart­ment of health and men­tal hy­giene has spent more than $27 mil­lion since the fa­cil­i­ties have closed.

Some of the prop­er­ties bring small rev­enues in from rent. The state leases the Up­per Shore Com­mu­nity Health Cen­ter to Kent County for $1 per year.

Kent County then pays the util­i­ties and op­er­at­ing costs — $378,000 in 2015 — for men­tal health pro­grams and sub­stance abuse treat­ment.

Be­cause Kent County is so small, it’s not an at­trac­tive lo­ca­tion for pri­vate re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion com­pa­nies, ac­cord­ing to An­drew Pons, the pro­gram di­rec­tor for the A.F. Whit­sitt Cen­ter, which is lo­cated at the Up­per Shore Com­mu­nity Health Cen­ter.

“We’re the only op­tion peo­ple have,” Pons said.

In Crownsville, 10 non­prof­its lease the space for $1 per year each, in­clud­ing the Anne Arun­del County Food Pantry.

Bud­get an­a­lysts are quick to note that $27 mil­lion, which works out to around $3 mil­lion per year, won’t break the bud­get. It’s not a mas­sive sum of money within the con­text of a $42 bil­lion an­nual op­er­at­ing bud­get for the state.

Still, it’s money that isn’t be­ing spent on much of any­thing.

Most of the an­nual op­er­at­ing ex­penses go to keep­ing up the grounds: fix­ing bro­ken win­dows, mow­ing the lawns and pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity against er­rant high school kids or cop­per-pipe thieves.

To put it in per­spec­tive, Ho­gan added $4 mil­lion to the state’s bud­get to fund a task force to study and com­bat the state’s heroin and opi­oid epi- demic.

Re­gard­less of how much it is, Mitchell said, any money spent on empty hos­pi­tals is wasted re­sources.

“That’s a cost to the depart­ment that should be go­ing back into the com­mu­nity for ser­vices,” Mitchell said.

He’d like to see that money go to more beds to treat opi­oid ad­dic­tion, or to the con­struc­tion of a new hos­pi­tal.

Part of the prob­lem is that these fa­cil­i­ties are what he calls “siloed.”

They are chronic hos­pi­tals that were mostly good for one thing — treat­ing men­tal ill­ness — and aren’t flex­i­ble enough to treat other types of disease.

More­over, the hos­pi­tals are old — Rose­wood opened in 1888 — and full of as­bestos.

Re­mov­ing as­bestos from build­ings as old and large as the ones found in Crownsville and Rose­wood could cost be­tween $4 mil­lion and $8 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to Derrick Har­ris, an En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­ject Man­ager with Ac­cess De­mo­li­tion Con­tract­ing in Brook­lyn, Mary­land.

Another $700,000 was al­lo­cated in the 2016 Cap­i­tal Bud­get to get Rose­wood in a con­di­tion to be pur­chased by Steven­son University, for­merly Villa Julie Col­lege, in Bal­ti­more County.

“Steven­son University has been ap­pre­hen­sive to ac­quire the prop­erty due to con­cerns about abate­ment,” the Se­nate Bud­get and Tax­a­tion Com­mit­tee wrote.

A spokesman for Steven­son said he couldn’t com­ment un­til a Mem­o­ran­dum of Un­der­stand­ing was fi­nal­ized be­tween the school and the state, but that the university is still in­ter­ested.

There’s also the prob­lem of pri­or­i­ties. Mitchell knows his depart­ment isn’t the only one vy­ing for cap­i­tal fund­ing, the money that would be spent to build a new hos­pi­tal or fix the old ones.

“We can’t com­pete with school con­struc­tion,” Mitchell said.

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