Families sought for a tough job

October 02, 1992|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Staff Writer

Wanted: Families that will take people into their homes, trea them with compassion and respect, indeed allow them to become members of the family, all the while knowing that their guests will probably die in the near future.

The Baltimore County Department of Social Services knows the response to that kind of classified ad would probably be minimal. Yet it's for just such families to care for AIDS patients.

The social workers are looking for participants in a state-funded program called Project Home, which was designed originally to find foster homes for the chronically mentally ill, people who were being released from institutions yet still needed some care.

Under Project Home, Baltimore county is allowed three slots for AIDS patients -- it has almost 70 for the mentally ill. But the county has yet to identify any families that will take in those suffering from AIDS, the fatal disease that strips a person's immune system bare and leaves him vulnerable to opportunistic infections.

According to Deborah Veystrk of the Department of Social Services, the county has only been able to meet the demand for homes for AIDS patients by finding places in the city.

"But that is getting more and more difficult," she said. "These people are from the county -- they want to stay in the county. We should be able to find them places here."

"When they are sent to the city, they are usually removed from whatever support network they have been able to develop," Mary Jean Farley, head of social services for the county health department said.

Ms. Farley said that the health department, which is currently monitoring 115 active AIDS cases in the county, has had seven requests for Project Home placements. Two went into nursing homes and one into hospice care. Two withdrew their applications and two died before a placement could be found.

Ms. Veystryk noted that private placements save money as patients are kept out of hospitals and nursing homes where bills could run over $100,000 a year -- usually paid for by public funds. Families in Project Home get just over $1,000 a month for each patient, plus some other expenses. With about $8,000 in services provided by the county figured in, it costs around $20,000 per patient in Project Home.

"I do think it does take kind of a special person," George Doll, the county social worker who deals with AIDS patients, said of anyone who would agree to take an AIDS sufferer under Project Home.

"It probably has to be someone who has, in some way or another, come to terms with their own death," he said. "Most of us deny death every day when we drive down the Beltway. But when you deal with AIDS patients, you know that you are dealing with death. That adds a whole dimension that a lot of people never look at."

Mr. Doll said that a number of the families who entered Project Home to take care of the mentally ill began by thinking of it as a business decision. But they find themselves treating their clients as members of the family.

"Some of them have been greatly affected by deaths that have occurred," Mr. Doll said. "We give them counseling."

According to Ms. Farley, the AIDS patients in the program would probably need help with their medications, meeting appointments and general housekeeping.

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