Smaller turns out better for VA Hospital: The veterans medical center in North Baltimore has been replaced with the Rehabilitation and Extended Care Center, which will accommodate fewer than half as many patients as the old facility.

Urban Landscape

July 11, 1996|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

IT'S NOT OFTEN that a property owner tears down a large building and replaces it with a smaller one. Usually, it's the other way around.

But that's what happened on the former site of the VA Baltimore Medical Center at Loch Raven Boulevard and The Alameda in North Baltimore.

For 40 years, the land held a hospital for Maryland war veterans.

After the VA Maryland Health System opened a new downtown hospital in 1992, the federal government razed the old one, saying it was obsolete and too expensive to salvage.

In its place, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has constructed a $12 million Rehabilitation and Extended Care Center that can accommodate fewer than half the patients the old one could -- 120 compared with 281.

It will provide general nursing and rehabilitative service to area veterans requiring long-term care, plus specialized treatment for patients with Alzheimer's disease and other brain disorders.

At 10 a.m. Monday, federal officials will dedicate the three-level building at 3900 Loch Raven Blvd., and patients will begin moving in Aug. 4. VA administrators say this is one time when smaller turns out to be better, since the new center seems less institutional and more residential.

"This warm and aesthetically pleasing environment will help to improve the healing process of the patients by increasing their comfort level and making them feel more at home," said Dennis Smith, director of the VA Maryland Health Care System. Rich interior detailing "gives it a residential ambience instead of the traditional clinical feel."

R. David Edwards, chief of voluntary service and public affairs for the VA, said the department initially tried to save the 1952 hospital by seeking bids from groups that would like to recycle it. But because the building was so large, inefficiently laid out and full of asbestos, he said, the VA received no offers.

As a result, the VA decided to raze most of the hospital to make way for a residential-scale building where veterans could recover from strokes, heart attacks or other serious health problems requiring extended care. The typical stay will be six to 12 months.

"We're not looking at this as just a last-stop nursing home where people stay until they die," Edwards said. "We're offering physical therapy and other rehabilitation services to help patients get back into their own living environments."

The low-rise building was designed to blend with the surrounding area, with brick walls, a pitched roof and a colonnaded entrance. In many ways, it resembles one of the private retirement communities that have risen around the area in recent years, such as Blakehurst or Copper Ridge.

The building features spacious living quarters with private bathrooms and attractive dining areas and group lounges. All patient rooms offer views of the center's campus, and many overlook patios or garden areas.

Each wing reflects themes of Maryland life through decorative borders, distinctive color schemes and diorama-like shadowboxes that will help patients with impaired memories identify their living quarters.

As part of an elaborate "way finding" system, patients will place photos of themselves outside their living quarters as another identification tool. In a "wander garden," patients may stroll freely without danger of leaving the premises, and in a "love room," patients may have conjugal visits with their spouses.

There are 530,310 veterans in Maryland, and the fastest growing group is in the 65-to-75 age group. The Loch Raven Boulevard building is one of four major facilities in the VA Maryland Health Care System, along with the downtown center and others at Perry Point and Fort Howard.

Medical students from the University of Maryland at Baltimore will work with the VA to care for patients and conduct research at the new center, giving students a chance to work with geriatric patients.

The extended-care center was designed by CHK Architects and the Zeidler-Roberts Partnership. Omni Construction Inc. (now Clark Construction) was the builder. The interior design was coordinated by Mary Ellen Moore and Ingrid Jacobson of the VA staff. Mary M. Grant is the chief of extended-care nursing.

Although the VA tore down most of the old hospital, it saved the auditorium and chapel for possible restoration as a later phase of the project. A greenhouse will be added by fall.

The first patients will come from Fort Howard Medical Center, where a 47-bed nursing center is closing. Administrators say they expect the new center to be full by the end of the year.

One of the biggest advantages of the location is its proximity to Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street. When the Orioles played there, Edwards said, the team set aside six tickets for each game so veterans could attend free. Now that the Baltimore Ravens will play football there this fall, "we're hoping that we can work out a similar arrangement," he said. The Baltimore County Historical Trust has set Aug. 1 as the deadline for applications for grants to assist preservation activities throughout the county. Awards range from $100 to $1,000 and average $500. For more information, call 832-1812.

Pub Date: 7/11/96

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