IN THE NEXT several years, as many as eight of Maryland's state hospitals will close and about 1,000 chronic patients will be moved into community-based housing arrangements. As many as 500 juvenile delinquents now held in state detention facilities also will be released, and homes and care must be found for them as well. Will Maryland officials be creative and efficient enough to meet this challenge?

That didn't happen during a year-long effort to open a group home in Chillum for eight emotionally disturbed youths. A nonprofit organization applied to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for a license. At a public hearing a year ago, 350 Chillum residents persuaded the state to reject the application. Then in July the state reversed its decision and granted the license, saying community opposition alone was not enough to keep the home from opening. In August, the state swung around again and withdrew the funds needed to open and operate the facility.

A Maryland official explained that Chillum residents still opposed the home and that the funds were needed elsewhere to establish -- you guessed it -- group homes. The official added that future efforts would be "low profile," involving no more than three children or adults. Opening a home that is this small requires no public hearings.

Linda D'Amario Rossi, new director of Maryland's juvenile detention system, has a better idea. It materialized when Gov. Schaefer visited the Montrose School youth detention facility in Baltimore and was sufficiently appalled to order it closed. Miss Rossi successfully moved half of the Montrose youths into existing community programs, without incident, in only three months.

One of Miss Rossi's youth-placement ideas involves a marine sciences program in which youths would live on or near ships, learn vocational skills and work on community projects such as preventing beach erosion. Already she has swayed some state legislators by showing them out-of-state programs that are working and are accepted by residents. With an imaginative yet practical approach, Maryland could at least begin to address the difficult aspects of deinstitutionalization.