For 18 years, Baltimore County was a non-participant in the statewide program of group homes for the elderly. Indeed, to the county's shame, it had long been the only Maryland jurisdiction without any group homes, despite the fact that it has more senior citizens than any state subdivision.
But now that the county government has made it easier to open the neighborhood-based residences serving from four to 15 people, the county will have more of them than any other jurisdiction by late 1995, predicts Phillip H. Pushkin, the director of the local department of aging.
The first of these homes -- in Dr. Pushkin's words, "essentially boarding houses for seniors where help comes in" -- opened June 3 in Catonsville. It's run by Brenda Walker, who also operates a state-certified senior home in West Baltimore. She endured a thicket of government red tape and opposition from closed-minded neighbors before the County Council passed a bill earlier this year facilitating the process by which a private operator can open a group home. Many would-be operators didn't bother to make the attempt in the past; they had been discouraged by the high costs of hiring lawyers to negotiate the bureaucratic obstacles of the old process. The persistence of Ms. Walker, however, kept the issue in front of county officials until the legislation was approved. Fittingly, she is the county's first group-home operator.
She should soon have a lot of company, though. Nearly 140 parties are on a waiting list to open homes. By this fall, up to 70 senior citizens should be placed in newly certified group homes. If only a quarter of the 140 parties on the waiting list are eventually granted permits, says Dr. Pushkin, the county would still have far more senior homes than any other subdivision in Maryland.
For residents, the advantages include the personal service and homey atmosphere not always found at nursing institutions, and expenses much lower than at most nursing homes. The county will reap benefits by cutting the number of nursing-home residents for whom the government provides advocacy, which absorbs staff hours and public dollars. Also, the homes would be subject to tight state and federal regulations and regular county inspections. Most important, the supply of pleasant, affordable housing for the county's rapidly aging populace will grow. Because the county's rate of senior-population growth is second only to Dade County, Fla., in the United States, the expected boom in elderly group homes can't come too soon.