By Kristy Blalock
About this time every year, the clients and staff at Gaudenzia’s Crownsville treatment facility typically walk across the campus to help Janice Hayes-Williams prepare for her stirring and emotional commemoration of those who died at the notorious state psychiatric hospital that once dominated the property.
The ‘Say My Name’ ceremony takes place this year on April 30th. It’s a time when we pay homage to the past and to the memories of those who lived and died at the center. But this year boasts an extra layer of excitement. We will not only be commemorating the past but looking forward to a bold and innovative vision for the future at this site of more than 500 acres at the heart of Anne Arundel County.
The Crownsville Hospital Center campus has been referred to as both a toxic eyesore and a green jewel. The property is home to dozens of older buildings, most of which are crumbling, as well as some of the most pristine urban park land in this part of the state. What to do with the property has vexed policymakers since the state closed the hospital in 2004. Gaudenzia has been one of the benefactors of this location, having added a treatment center for substance use disorders to the location in 2016.
Now, thanks to County Executive Steuart Pittman and $30 million in funding from the state of Maryland, a makeover for the site is imminent. Central to the vision of County Executive Pittman, is Crownsville Hospital Memorial Park, along with a unique center for non-profit organizations, a hub of sorts, that could include everything from veterans housing to health and wellness programs and an incubator for smaller non-profits across the county to utilize.
This type of centralized, holistic care would be a first for Maryland and a model for other counties and states to follow. It would also show that community organizations and the residents that surround them can work together to forge partnerships that benefit all. Since moving onto the campus, we have worked hard to be a good neighbor, and we are proud of our relationship with our community.
Today, Crownsville’s reputation is shifting to one that is working to reduce the stigma of behavioral health challenges. At this location alone, we have worked with hundreds of clients on their road to recovery. We are proud to be in Crownsville, and we want to grow old here — and we want to help others like us. Plans for the revitalization of these grounds will provide a unique chance to partner with, and support, other nonprofit agencies that will help our community continue to address the behavioral health crisis that has only worsened during Covid-19.
Janice Hayes-Williams likes to talk about the beauty of Crownsville. After all, many of its early patients were suffering from tuberculosis and needed to escape the fetid air of the city for the sweet clean air of the country. But there are also the voices of the past, especially those of the 1,700-plus people who are buried in the Crownsville patient cemetery. They serve as a reminder of who we are and what we all must continue to do to help those around us.
It is our hope that the vision of the County Executive and other leaders will come to fruition. We at Gaudenzia fully support their vision and are excited at the prospect of having more resources for our patients and for all those who call Anne Arundel County home.
Kristy Blalock is executive director of the Chesapeake and Washington D.C regions for Gaudenzia.