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Md. board approves sale of Spring Grove Hospital campus to UMBC

Freeman Hrabowski III, the outgoing president of UMBC, told the Board of Public Works that the Spring Grove property will help the university expand its research facilities. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland health officials Wednesday promised a plan to treat people with mental illnesses even as the state is selling off its largest and oldest hospital. 

The Board of Public Works voted 2-1 Wednesday to approve the sale of the 175-acre Spring Grove State Hospital property in Catonsville for $1. The panel approved it over the objections of Comptroller Peter Franchot, who sought to delay the purchase by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. 

Franchot said he didn’t object to the university taking over the property. Instead, he was concerned there was no public plan for replacing a treatment facility that is already stressed and has a backlog of people waiting to be admitted.  

“We’re being asked today to seal the fate of Spring Grove Hospital and co-sign its eventual closure with just the vaguest of promises about four community clinics based in communities that may or may not be welcoming,” said Franchot, one of the board’s three members. 

The state released a master plan for its state hospital facilities last fall. In that report, Spring Grove and other state hospitals are on track to close, some within a decade. 

Franchot accused State Health Secretary Dennis Schrader of rushing to sell the facility. 

Gov. Larry Hogan, who chairs the board, said the hospital had been neglected for four decades. The health department had been reviewing the system for the last five with a master plan released last fall. 

“This is saying we’re going to take 10 years and another optional 10 years to make these decisions so in the future we won’t have the problems we have now,” said Hogan. “I wouldn’t say it’s rushing. To me, it’s a very slow-moving process.” 

“If you want to kick it down the road for 20 years or so, I just don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said later. 

Hogan was joined by the third member of the board, State Treasurer Dereck Davis, in approving the sale.

The university has long sought the property that is home to the state hospital that was built in 1797. Spring Grove is the second-oldest psychiatric facility in continuous use in the country. 

Freeman Hrabowski III, the outgoing president of UMBC, said the property will help the college expand its research facilities. 

“We have no plans yet,” said Hrabowski, who promised community involvement in how the property is used. “We start planning next year. Everybody will be involved.” 

The State Department of Assessments and Taxation valued the property at $89 million. An internal appraisal performed by the Department of General Services estimated an initial value of $20 million. 

But state officials said stormwater issues, and the requirement to maintain historic structures and other remediation efforts reduced the value to $1. 

The proposed closure of Spring Grove and other sites raised concerns about how the state will treat patients who have been deemed incompetent to stand trial. 

A backlog of those patients who are incarcerated but waiting for a treatment slot remains. The courts have previously held state officials in contempt for violating the rights of those patients. A state law passed in 2018 requires the state to move patients within 10 days. 

Spring Grove is also a symbol of the state’s attitude toward the mentally ill. State officials Wednesday acknowledged the general decrepit conditions, the result of decades of neglect. 

Health Secretary Dennis Schrader promised a plan would be in place for providing services currently offered at Spring Grove and other facilities. 

“We can’t move forward unless we start this step,” said Schrader. 

Schrader said he was “horrified” to learn that a plan for the facility was drawn up in 2012 and “got lost.” 

“These plans go into the ether,” said Schrader. “This plan is action-oriented.”