LifeCourse Center is an effort to give something back Harbor Hospital's aim is to offer services in an enjoyable setting

March 09, 1997|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,SUN STAFF

An old car dealership has been turned into Harbor Hospital Center's $1.5 million recreational and educational playground.

"This used to be an Inner Harbor Ford dealership. It went out of business 10 years ago. [This] is quite a change, isn't it?" said Frank Littleton, 75, a receptionist who spends 2 1/2 days a week greeting visitors at a big desk in the lobby of the new LifeCourse Center. The walls are brightly painted and print fabrics cover the chairs.

Thomas Kantor, administrator of Harbor Family Care, to which the center is connected, said that even now, when people call for directions, they say, "Oh, you're where the Inner Harbor Ford used to be. $99 down."

The center is an attempt by the hospital to give South Baltimore and Northern Anne Arundel County residents the same kind of recreational facilities that southern Anne Arundel already enjoys, Harbor spokesman Chad Dillard said.

The renovations at the 12,000-square-foot brick building are an extension of changes Harbor began making two years ago at its main campus across the street.

The hospital, which overlooks the Patapsco River, draws about 40 percent of its patients from northern Anne Arundel County.

Ken Frager, communications manager for the Maryland Hospital Association, said he didn't know if the innovations at LifeCourse were "a trend. But I know that hospitals are getting more into wellness and giving back to the community."

About 700 people attended the center's opening March 1 and had sodas and chicken salad sandwiches in the atrium, which has potted ficus trees surrounded by wood chips.

Catherine L. Benicewicz, 78, of Brooklyn Park, loved what she saw.

"It's very new, very nice, very accommodating and very convenient for us," said Benicewicz, who is looking forward to using the library to read about low-fat recipes. "I could walk there. We live just 12 blocks from the city line."

Work is still under way on a kitchen, where lessons on cooking healthy meals will be held.

Throughout the center are tulips, roses, lilies, carnations and other flowers in glass vases. Serene landscapes and seascapes hang on the walls.

The Firm -- a community gym with free weights, treadmills, exercise bikes and rowing machines -- is scheduled to open in the center this summer.

Just about everything else at the facility on Hanover Street is ready now. And one doesn't have to be a Harbor patient or have a doctor there to use its resources, including a 200-seat auditorium that can be divided into three smaller rooms.

"If the Friends of Brooklyn Park want to use the space. They can call up and reserve space," Dillard said.

Right now, though, you'll find "Medicine's Great Journey: One Hundred Years of Healing," a color and black-and-white photo exhibit, in one of the rooms. It will be there through Thursday.

To create The Firm, equipment from the hospital employees' gym, which is now in the basement of the hospital, will be moved to the center. A nominal fee will be charged for use of the gym.

"This is not for someone who wants to look like the Incredible Hulk or something," cautioned Dillard as workmen hauled wood to the area where the gym will be. "This will be for people who are deconditioned and need to get in shape."

Lest you think the center is all about fun and games because it offers a spacious studio for yoga, aerobics and other classes -- think again.

There's a health library where adults can read about nutrition, Alzheimer's disease and cancer. Computers are being installed so that people can use the Internet or CD-roms to do research. Televisions and videocassette recorders are on the way, too, so visitors can watch health videos.

Nurses in a nearby office can answer questions; and there's a children's play area, complete with its own computer. It will be getting a television, too.

"What we want to do is make it a nice area so someone will be there to read to the kids," said Margaret Hougart, administrator of Harbor's senior wellness program. "The idea is to start teaching good health habits, and you don't teach them the way you teach adults."

The children's play area, with tiny yellow and blue chairs, has another benefit, too. "If the parent comes in to look up something, there's a place the children can go," Hougart said.

There's also a lounge for teen-agers, health screening rooms and handouts on health issues, such as on ways seniors can stay in shape, that visitors can take home.

There are screening rooms, where people can go for skin cancer, diabetes, foot and other preventive screenings and health programs.

The center, was built with the help of a $750,000 state bond, money from fund-raising galas and donations from individuals.

Pub Date: 3/09/97

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