Although community leaders were braced for opposition, Charles Village residents reacted calmly last night to a disclosure that the former North Charles General Hospital may be converted to a $5 million residence and multiservice center for people with AIDS.
Some residents attending a community meeting questioned whether the proposed facility -- one of three ideas that state officials are considering for the vacant hospital -- would become a magnet for drug abusers and how it would dispose of medical wastes. But others voiced strong support for the concept.
"I think this is one fantastic idea," said Charles Village Civic Association board member Wally Orlinsky. "It's something the city needs and ought to welcome. I'm glad someone had the guts to think about it."
Maryland Lifelines, a non-profit consortium of health and social service providers, proposed the center for people suffering from acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
The Maryland Health and Higher Educational Facilities Authority is working with the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions to select a buyer for the property on Charles Street between 27th and 28th streets. Hopkins closed it in phases during the spring and summer.
The other two proposals for the hospital came from Sarkis K. Nazarian, head of the Baltimore Nursing and Convalescent Center in Bolton Hill, and Sheldon Glass, a psychiatrist and president of Glass Mental Health Centers, the largest private psychiatric service in Maryland.
According to Donald Carter, executive director of the Maryland health facilities agency, Mr. Nazarian wants to turn the hospital into a nursing home with up to 203 beds.
Dr. Glass has proposed a "behavioral science research center that would be a national leader in urban psycho-social development," according to a prepared statement.
Kathy Baker, executive director of Maryland Lifelines, told community residents last night that her group wants to create what would be one of the nation's largest centers where people with AIDS could live, come for treatment or simply get together. "It's a different kind of concept," she said. "These folks have
been wiped out financially and have no way to cope. This facility would provide a wide range of services in one location, where they can get the care they need."
Johns Hopkins Medical Systems, Church Hospital and Sinai Hospital are among Baltimore institutions that now care for AIDS patients, as do several local hospices.
But Ms. Baker emphasized that her project would not be a traditional hospital, nursing home or hospice.
She said a variety of services would be provided to outpatients through organizations such as the Health Education Resource Organization, and 50 to 60 apartments would be rented to people with AIDS. And she expressed confidence that her group would be able to address issues such as removal of waste to the community's satisfaction.
"It is not a hospital. It is not an acute care facility. There are going to be no invasive procedures on site" that generate waste in the same way as a hospital, she said.
According to Hirsch Goldberg, a spokesman for Dr. Glass, his project would bring researchers to the Charles Street building to address such issues as the state of public schools, the growing numbers of homeless people, juvenile delinquency and the rise in violent crime. It would be the 13th facility in the Glass mental health network that includes the Gundry Glass Hospital in West Baltimore.
Mr. Carter said his agency holds a mortgage on the North Charles property and needs to generate money from the sale to pay off the bondholders. He said the highest bid so far -- about $3.5 million -- came from Glass Mental Health Centers. The nursing home operator offered $2.75 million and Maryland Lifelines offered $2.5 million, he said.
Mr. Carter said all three bids fell short of the outstanding debt on the building, about $10.8 million.
Hopkins has been liquidating equipment, an action that is expected to reduce the debt to about $7.1 million, he said.
The Johns Hopkins Health System acquired the 213-bed hospital in 1985 and renamed it Homewood Hospital Center-South. Citing losses of more than $5 million and changing patient needs, officials announced plans last February to close it in phases.
Joann Rodgers, speaking for Hopkins, said its officials have not taken a position on the proposals.