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(Enlarge) Paula Langmead of Eldersburg has been involved at the Springfield Hospital Center for 28 years — and says one of her primary goals has been to make the hospital a true and active part of the community. (Staff photo by Matt Roth)

When Eldersburg resident Paula Langmead was in high school, she visited a place called The Home for the Incurables, a facility for people with disabilities and illnesses.

She couldn't believe the name of the place -- was that really what its administrators thought of the patients? -- and she believed in her heart that things could be better for the patients and the hospitals.

"I wanted to change people's vision, or their conceptual imagery, of a state facility or what it really can provide to the mentally ill citizens of our state," said Langmead, current CEO of Springfield Hospital Center.

Over the course of her 25-plus years at Springfield, Langmead has understood the stigma attached to state mental health hospitals and their patients, and she has worked to change it.

Her service to that ideal, and her involvement in Carroll County institutions including Carroll Community College, Carroll Hospital Center and Carroll Lutheran Village, combine to make Langmead The Eldersburg Eagle's 2008 Person of the Year.

Trial by fiery debate

The year of 2008 was a bit of a tough one for Langmead, 60, on a professional level. She and Springfield Hospital Center had no control or say over the state's decision to place its Secure Evaluation and Therapeutic Treatment program -- for developmentally-disabled patients who are charged with crimes -- in Sykesville. That program in December moved into the campus' Muncie Building.

In many ways it was incumbent upon Langmead to integrate that program onto the Springfield campus -- and deal with the fallout from the community.

She admits she was taken aback in fall 2008 when residents criticized the hospital's security and the potential behavior of patients who have criminal histories, whether mentally ill or developmentally disabled.

Her disappointment, she said, came from the fact that she thought residents had a good feeling about the work done at Springfield. She came away feeling there is still much work to be done.

"For me personally, that was the most embarrassing issue," she said about residents' concerns. "Because I saw a complete loss of confidence by the community in all the years of good work we had done."

It was difficult to handle and a tough moment, she said.

But those who know Langmead say the way she handled it showed her connection and concern for the community.

"She came out on top," said Ellen Dix, a longtime volunteer at Springfield and current president of the Freedom Area Citizens' Council. "She listened to their questions, she was understanding, and she made some good changes to Springfield that have eased a lot of people's minds."

As the questions poured in from the community, Langmead worked to respond, explaining what the hospital does now and what residents could expect from the new program -- even though it's not run by her administration.

"It's my job to make sure that we get back on track and that we're supportive of each other," Langmead said, "and that Springfield works in partnership with the local community."

Healing history

Langmead says she understood where some of the community's reaction comes from -- even those who aren't fully aware of what the 113-year-old Springfield Hospital does.

That's because 28 years ago, even she wasn't fully aware of its expansive operation.

"I couldn't believe there was a large state facility in the town that I was living in," she said, recalling the time before she was hired at Springfield in 1981, rising to the rank of assistant superintendent in 1984. She was named chief executive in 1993.

"I was drawn to it," she said.

That shows when you ask her anything about the hospital's history; including how its beginnings mirror its present operation.

Sykesville residents in 1896 "weren't too happy about the second asylum for the insane being located in their community," she said.

But she said that over the course of a few years -- and in part because of a service train that linked the Sykesville employment base to the campus, "The townspeople were part of the hospital and the hospital was part of the town."

Today, she's not defensive about people not knowing about Springfield, nor does she feel the need to correct everyone's perception.

"I think if we hold true to our mission, which is treating and caring for the mentally ill citizens of Maryland, and we do a good job of performing that mission, then the local citizens will be able to accept the fact that every community has to take care of some of the disabled," she said.

Sykesville Mayor Jonathan Herman has witnessed Langmead's work throughout his 20-plus years as an elected official.

He praised her handling of being placed in an awkward position and saying that "her temperament, style and compassion are unparalleled.

"As long as we have Paula at Springfield, we can pretty much guarantee certain outcomes and quality that she has provided all of these years," Herman said.

Langmead credits the hospital's leadership team for advancing clinical services and care. During her tenure, the hospital has added addiction treatment services and focused on recovery.

She believes the hospital has led the nation in reducing the use of seclusion and restraints as part of patient care.

The Mental Health Administration has recognized that claim, selecting Springfield to run a federal pilot program called Wellness Recovery Action Plan, or WRAP.

The program has patients focus on how they can control their behavior by making lists of things that make them happy, sad or trigger depression or other actions; while also recognizing that the medicine is there to help the chemical imbalances, she said.

The hospital's staff continues to look at innovative ways to treat patients -- including something as simple as a weighted, fuzzy blanket that is used to help ease tensions.

"You get the fuzziness on your face and the extra weight -- it really is making a difference in some people," Langmead explained.

Finding what can make a difference for patients is what Langmead is all about.

"Listening to patients about their view of how they should be cared for helps us to succeed and create modality that they buy into," she said.

"If we keep giving them a course of treatment that isn't making a difference or isn't touching their lives, it's very difficult," she said.

A personal touch

A warm, fuzzy personality is what some folks in the community say is what makes Langmead herself.

"I hold Paula Langmead in the highest esteem," said Dr. Faye Pappalardo, president of Carroll Community College. "She has a wonderful character ... (and) does great work in the community."

Pappalardo should know; CCC is one of Langmead's interests outside of Springfield.

Langmead currently serves on the college foundation's board of directors and is involved in numerous associations including serving on the boards of directors of Carroll Hospital Center, Carroll Lutheran Village and Rebuilding Together (Christmas in April).

She's also a member of the South Carroll Business Association, the Carroll County Mental Health Advisory Board, Circle of Caring Homeless Board and the Carroll County Leadership Council for Mission of Mercy, which provides mobile health care for people in need.

Langmead, who lives with her husband, Harry Langmead, in Eldersburg, is a graduate of Catonsville Community College and Loyola College. She and her husband have raised four children, David, Mark, Adam and Amy.

She was named one of the Top 100 Women in Maryland by The Daily Record in 2005 and 2007, and was inducted into the Carroll County Women's Hall of Fame in 1998 by the Soroptimist International of Westminster and Carroll Community College.

"She helped a lot of people who have had problems outside of the hospital because of her knowledge of mental health and the health care system," Herman said.

Geary Milliken, chief executive officer and president of Carroll Lutheran Village, said Langmead is "someone who wants to very much do the right thing for the betterment of the organization."

Milliken said he would never be surprised seeing Langmead strike up a conversation with a CLV resident to ask how they're doing.

"Her personal skills and enthusiasm and genuineness can translate well in any setting," he said.

Dix said that what sets Langmead apart is her willingness to do any job at Springfield or in the community.

"Nothing that needs to be done is beneath her," Dix said.

Langmead said she chats with people, and interacts with patients, and volunteers in the community, because it makes people happy. And it pays dividends to her, too.

"Volunteering, and volunteering with a sense of service, is absolutely critical to all of our communities," she said.

"I volunteer because I've been given many opportunities to volunteer," she added. "But if you don't accept those opportunities, then we won't have the tools we need to build strong structures in our communities.

"I think that kind of interactive response promotes good mental health for everybody," she said, "especially myself."

Get tickets now ...

The 2008 Eldersburg Eagle Person of the Year, Paula Langmead, along with the four finalists, will be honored at a banquet on Tuesday, Feb. 24, beginning at 6 p.m. at the Sykesville-Freedom District Fire Dept. hall, Route 32 at Freedom Avenue.

Tickets are $27.50 per person, or $200 for a table of eight, with proceeds benefiting a local charity. Ticket reservations are available by calling The Eagle at 410-549-2806, ext. 5004, or 410-795-1992. Reservations should be made by Friday, Feb. 20.

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