Written By Lisa Breslin, Photos by: Walter Calahan

Paula Langmead is the first female Chief Executive Officer of Springfield Hospital in Sykesville, one of Maryland’s largest psychiatric hospitals. Throughout her 30-year tenure at Springfield, Langmead has cherished working with the mentally ill and championing their right to dignity in an inclusive world.

In 2001, Langmead was the first woman appointed to Carroll Hospital Center’s board of directors, and she has served on many other boards, including Carroll Community College Foundation, Carroll Lutheran Village Board of Directors, Community Foundation of Carroll County, Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, and United Way of Central Maryland.

Born in Lawrence, Mass., on April 10, 1948, Langmead has a MBA with a concentration in Healthcare Administration and a BA in Education for the Emotionally Disturbed from Loyola College; she earned an accounting certificate from Catonsville Community College in 1980.

Langmead lives in Sykesville with her husband, Harry. They have four children and eight grandchildren.

What are two common myths about Springfield Hospital Center ?
The first is that this is a scary place. There are some old buildings on the grounds that look scary, but this is a beautiful residential hospital where the mentally ill live and learn to thrive within and beyond this community.

The second myth is that once people come here they never get out. Perhaps that was once true, but there are all facets of recovery now.

Residents learn quickly that there is hope that they can stabilize, then find a soft landing and succeed in the community. We have residents whose ages range from 18 to 93. We are funded for 230 patients and today we have 227. For every patient admitted, we have to discharge another. For most, the length of stay is 57 days, with the exception of some persistently ill patients who have been here as long as 10 to 20 years.

What do you love the most about working with the mentally ill?
Their writings, paintings and poetry move me. Something in their faces, in their eyes, draws me in to the way they see the world. I see and understand their confusion, delusions and desperate desire for their minds to click the right way. They are beauty in motion and though their view of the world is different from mine, it is still a beautiful world.

What do you see as your main role at Springfield?
To provide a safe haven for the residents, help them stabilize, thrive in outside communities and be a voice in those communities until the stigma often linked to mental illness is completely dispelled.

What inspires you?
Dedicated people – I draw from their energy and that energy helps me keep perspective in my own life and it enables me to focus on causes that are worth championing. The patients at Springfield also inspire me. They are the ones walking the long road to recovery. Every time I have a tiring day, I head for the units and I savor the time to talk to them.

Can you recall a specific encounter with a patient that inspired you?
I remember one patient who was injured as a child. The traumatic brain injury essentially sentenced him to institutions all his life. Any time he was transferred to a different facility, his family would move to a neighborhood close enough to visit him frequently. He had a brother who, with his wife and their children, visited often – even through his final days at hospice. The children couldn’t imagine a world without their uncle; their lives really included him to such an extent that they would sing church hymns to him on Sundays. That sense of family, the compassion that spanned generations so that our resident knew unconditional love and dignity until he died, inspires me to this day.

What are some of the best-kept secrets about Springfield?
We are the stewards of a remarkable piece of property. The rolling hills are calming and they promote patient and staff health. Another secret is that the mentally ill enjoy stable, normal lives. With a new emphasis on recovery we are seeing remarkable turn-arounds. We recognize that most of our residents have experienced some kind of trauma. To identify that trauma at the beginning enables us to give stronger support. We know the importance of offering them utmost respect as human beings so that they can open up enough to try programs that help them gain self-esteem for who they are rather than how they are labeled.

And who are they?
They are artists, musicians, nurses, lawyers, doctors, mothers, fathers and siblings whose lives are temporarily upturned because of mental illness and they just need healing resources and a soft place to land.

What are some of those resources?
Therapeutic activities – art, music, dance, occupational therapy, physical therapy and, most recently, dialectical behavior therapy. This therapy is often used for bipolar disorder and it helps residents be more in tune with their behavior so they can recognize the warning signs that a manic stage is near and they know specific steps to take to avoid the emotions that trigger behavior that is out of control.

When you are not at work, how to you relax?
I spend time with my children and grandchildren, and I love to read.

Favorite books or favorite authors?
Barbara Kingsolver, although I’m having a real hard time getting through her recent book, Flight Behavior. Anne Tyler, but I was disappointed by her last two books.

The ’60s – The Supremes, The Temptations, The Beatles and Rod Stewart

When your tenure at Springfield is reviewed in history what do you hope you will be noted as your marks?
Mainly, that I improved the level and environment of care for the mentally ill. Additionally, I’m proud of my work to improve the staff-to-patient ratio. It used to be 1.7 to 1, and now there are 3.2 staff members for every one patient. I also hope that I will be remembered for what I’d call my Ôcampaign for respect’ – respect for all patients and for fellow staff.