A place for the ailing elderly

December 04, 1992

A woman named Brenda Walker recently won a bureaucratic battle that could bode well for the ailing elderly of Baltimore County.

For more than a year, Ms. Walker fought to gain the county's approval to expand from six to 15 the capacity of a senior housing facility she owns in Catonsville. In addition, she was faced with opposition from area residents who feared the facility would set a precedent for commercial enterprises in the neighborhood.

Ms. Walker, who also runs a residence for 15 seniors in West Baltimore, had to cool her heels while County Executive Roger B. Hayden's administration dawdled over legislation to remove development and zoning regulations that have stymied efforts such as Ms. Walker's. The administration reportedly will introduce its bill any day now.

In fact, Ms. Walker might still be cooling her heels if her neighbors hadn't decided last week to drop their appeal of the county zoning commissioner's favorable ruling on the facility. After realizing the county appeared determined to see the expansion through, the community gave up its challenge.

Facilities such as Ms. Walker's are much needed in the county, and will probably become more so in the coming years, as statistics indicate. Nearly 137,000 people over the age of 60 lived in the county last year. That figure is fast approaching 139,000 and is estimated by the county's Department of Aging to reach 144,000 by the year 2000.

Department officials say they like the concept of the residential facility because it offers more personal service, a more home-like atmosphere and a more manageable cost than those found at nursing institutions. The average monthly cost for a nursing home resident is about $3,000, or three times the monthly fee at a residential home.

These residences also lessen the onus on the public sector to provide housing for infirm seniors. Baltimore County voters recently approved a $600,000 bond for the construction of houses for the elderly and low- to moderate-income people, though one county official called it "a drop in the bucket" compared to the need for senior housing.

Since the state's budget crisis has cut funding for senior programs, many elderly residents could use all the aid they can get. The county government can help its graying citizens by moving quickly to provide the housing they require. A good step in that direction would be to push through the legislation to eliminate the obstacles Brenda Walker had to overcome.

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