Springfield Hospital Center

A Brief History of Springfield Hospital Center
By Bill Ebeling

In 1894, the Legislature of the State of Maryland addressed the issue of overcrowding of the one state operated psychiatric hospital by creating a search committee charged with finding a site for the erection of the “Second Hospital for the Insane of Maryland”. This legislation was proposed by John Hubner of Baltimore County.
After reviewing a number of potential sites, the committee selected Springfield, the estate of the Patterson-Brown family. At the time of this selection, Springfield was owned by Governor Frank Brown, a descendant of the William Patterson family, a wealthy colonial era farmer and merchant. William Patterson’s daughter, Elizabeth, or “Betsy”, gained international fame and notoriety when she married Jerome Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon Bonaparte. This courtship, and the ill-fated marriage that followed has been the subject of numerous books and at least one movie. Information about the Patterson and Brown families can be found in the Springfield Hospital Center Museum and the Maryland Historical Society.
The first patients were received at the hospital in July 1896. Existing farm houses were renovated to accommodate those first patients while the hospital buildings were being constructed. The first phase of the building program was the Men’s Group, located in the northern section of the hospital grounds. A Women’s Group, located at the southern end of the campus was completed in 1900. As the hospital population rapidly expanded, additional buildings were erected, including the John Hubner Psychopathic Building, the Epileptic Colony, and significant expansions to the Men’s and Women’s Groups.
Other structures were built to support the clinical areas. A powerhouse was constructed to supply domestic water needs as well as steam for heating. A large farm operation supplied most of the food consumed by patients and staff. A railroad line to Sykesville was built, and a small train was acquired to haul fuel and supplies. Additional structures were added to support the needs of the hospital, such as maintenance buildings, central dietary and storeroom, firehouse, and employee housing.
By the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, the hospital population exceeded 3000. Units were overcrowded and staffing was inadequate to meet the needs of the patients. A series of newspaper articles in The Baltimore Sun, entitled “Maryland’s Shame”, examined these problems at all of the state operated psychiatric hospitals. As a result of these articles and a heightened awareness by the public of the needs of the mentally ill, additional funding for staffing and capital improvements was made by the Maryland Legislature. At Springfield Hospital Center, this effort resulted in the construction of many new buildings, and renovations to all existing buildings to remedy the overcrowding.
It was during this time that Springfield Hospital Center became the nationwide model for a new concept in treating the mentally ill. Under the direction of Miss Henrietta DeWitt, Director of Social Work, the concept of foster care-placing discharged patient in family homes-began and was rapidly adopted by other States.
In the mid 1950’s, new medications were introduced which had a profound effect on the future of this and all other psychiatric hospitals. For the first time, many patients were able to return to live in their communities. The trend of increasing census was reversed, and the number of patients requiring inpatient treatment began declining. In the 1960’s, there was an effort begun to serve the mentally ill in community-based treatment centers. Springfield was in the forefront of that effort by establishing one of the first outpatient centers in Baltimore City. During the 1960’s, the State of Maryland ended the practice of admitting patients to various hospitals based on their race. Springfield Hospital Center became fully integrated during this time period.
During the 1970’s, the concept of deinstitutionalization was introduced. A concerted effort was made to provide patients with the skills necessary to reenter the community. Multidisciplinary teams were formed to coordinate these efforts, which resulted in many units becoming vacant for the first time as patients successfully transitioned back to independent or assisted living situations. As the census continued its decline and units were emptied, new construction continued to replace the nearly one hundred year-old buildings. The Muncie Center for Adolescents and the Irene Hitchman Building were constructed, utilizing state of the art treatment concepts in their construction.
In the 1980’s, further emphasis was placed on the rapid evaluation and treatment for newly admitted patients and fostering the rehabilitation of the chronically mentally ill. Units were downsized, and long range planning focused on attention to the development of the hospital along Fourth Street. With the opening of the Eva Salomon Building in the late 1980’s, this plan was finalized, with all of the major inpatient units clustered on Fourth Street. The result was a smaller hospital with easy access to all services required by our patients in one centralized area. Another “first” for Springfield Hospital Center was the opening of our Deaf Unit, which is the only unit in the State of Maryland for deaf or hard of hearing patients who have mental health issues.
In 1996, Springfield Hospital Center celebrated 100 years of providing mental health services to the citizens of Maryland. Activities were held each month, beginning with the dedication of the Museum in January. As we approached the millennium, Springfield Hospital Center continued its mission of providing comprehensive treatment in an environment that is responsive to all elements of human dignity.
Plans for the future include ongoing performance improvement initiatives for upgrading the already outstanding care that our patients receive. New buildings and programs are in the planning phase to help keep us in the forefront of psychiatric health care services. Springfield Hospital Center is proud to be fully accredited by the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, as well as being licensed by the State of Maryland, and approved by various federal regulatory agencies.