Hogan, Jones, Hrabowski tout controversial lease of state psychiatric hospital as a win for higher ed.

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Top state, local and university officials gathered on the University of Maryland Baltimore County campus on Wednesday to celebrate the recent transfer of state-run Spring Grove Hospital Center grounds to the university.

“One, two, three, money!” University of Maryland Baltimore County President Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski III, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and others exclaimed as they took a picture holding a framed aerial photograph of the university and hospital campuses.

Last week, the Board of Public Works voted 2-1 to lease Spring Grove Hospital Center to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County for $1. The lease will last up to 10 years, with an ability to extend it for another 10.

State Treasurer Derreck E. Davis (D) was the swing vote that sealed the deal on the hospital’s transfer. Though present at the ceremony, Davis did not give a speech and appeared hesitant to pose for pictures.

Comptroller Peter V. R. Franchot (D), the only dissenting vote, did not attend Wednesday’s ceremony. A candidate for governor, he was at a campaign event in Greenbelt.

The Spring Grove Hospital Center, one of the oldest psychiatric hospitals in the country, has over 70 buildings that sit on approximately 175 acres of land in Catonsville. It employs about 800 state workers and has 397 psychiatric beds, most of which serve mentally ill people who have been charged with or sentenced for violent crimes.

Patients treated at Spring Grove have an average length of stay of around one year. As of 3:50 p.m. on Wednesday, there were 95 patients waiting for bed space there.

According to the Maryland Department of Health’s 2041 Facilities Master Plan, community partnerships to transfer services out of Spring Grove aren’t supposed to happen until phase three, which is set to occur from 2032 through 2041.

Hrabowski had been working toward this land transfer for decades.

“When we talk about investing in education — investing in universities — we’re talking about the future of society, and this governor, the Speaker and all the others who have come to the plate are saying UMBC is a partner,” he said.

Hrabowski is set to retire at the end of the academic year. Dr. Jay A. Perman, the chancellor of the University System of Maryland, called the transfer of the hospital grounds to the university Hrabowski’s “capstone of 30 years of legendary leadership.”

“…[I]t’s not just an investment in this institution or even its students,” Perman said Wednesday. “It’s truly an investment in every single citizen of this state.”

While some see it as an investment, others see it as a loss for mental health treatment.

During last week’s hearing, Rosemary Wertz, the field coordinator for AFT Healthcare-Maryland, a health care workers’ union, said that Spring Grove and Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville expanded their psychiatric bed capacity on a temporary basis last summer.

According to Wertz, both of those units have now become permanent and there are people still waiting for open beds.

In an interview after the ceremony, Perman, a physician, said that he “strongly” considers “higher education to be health care.”

“So this is not a divestment in health care, including mental health,” Perman continued. “This is an advancement in higher education, which is healthcare.”

The crux of the argument to lease the hospital lies in its value.

Appraisers with the Department of General Services estimated the land to be worth $20 million. But, because of damage, it has a whopping $135 million price tag to make it suitable for development.

Hogan and the legislature allocated $30 million in this year’s capital budget for remediation and repairs to the facilities once the hospital was leased to the university.

“We know that the property will be a critical part of improving our mental health and criminal justice systems in the county,” Jones said Wednesday.

But it’s still unclear what the university’s plan for the hospital grounds is, and where the psychiatric patients receiving care at Spring Grove Hospital Center will be transferred to.

In an email exchange on Wednesday afternoon, Lisa Akchin, a spokesperson for the university, said that there is currently no “specific plan for the site.”

Chase Cook, who represents the Maryland Department of Health, said that the agency will “continue to maintain and use the clinical facilities on the property for the foreseeable future.”

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