Hospital ship refitted to aid female addicts Project Life's Sanctuary seeks a permanent berth on Baltimore waterfront

December 02, 1997|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

A converted former U.S. Navy hospital ship, still seeking a permanent home in Baltimore Harbor, will begin accepting women drug and alcohol abusers for treatment in April, it was announced yesterday.

Stephen J. Hammer, chairman of the nonprofit group Project Life, which owns the ship, Sanctuary, said 60 women will receive help in the first phase of a program that will try to "break the grip of addiction" and also offer "life and employment skills."

The women must have gone through detoxification before boarding the ship. They will live aboard in single or double rooms for 30 days of rehabilitation while being treated by nurses, educators and other personnel.

"I think it's great," said a nurse at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Perry Point, Therese Bernhard of Havre de Grace. During the Vietnam War, she was a Navy nurse serving aboard the Sanctuary when it handled 25,000 American casualties off the Vietnam coast.

"The need to care for women substance abusers is great," she said. "No matter how sick they may be, their children are so important to them, and the mothers need to be healthy." She and her husband, William, a doctor, plan to volunteer on the ship.

Dr. Patricia A. McIntyre, a Project Life board member and chairman of the addictions committee of the Medical and Chirurgical Society of Maryland, said, "This program will give these women a sense of self-sufficiency they don't have now."

There are almost as many chemically dependent women as male substance abusers in urban areas, but women are severely underserved by treatment programs, she said.

"A key question remaining is where to dock the ship," Hammer said. "But I'm sure we will find a home by the time we begin in spring." It has temporarily been at Pier 6, North Locust Point, for more than a year getting a refitting and white paint job. Some inside work remains.

Hammer said three institutions have become major partners: The School of Nursing, University of Maryland, Baltimore, will provide nursing support.

Baltimore City Community College will offer educational programs aboard the ship, which will become a new off-campus site.

The Schaefer Center of Policy Studies, University of Baltimore, will track the women for five years to gauge the program's successes and weaknesses so adjustments can be made.

Major funding has come from the Maryland General Assembly in the form of bond measures and from USF&G Foundation Inc.

Other funding sources include the Jacob and Annita France Foundation Inc., the Robert G. and Anne M. Merrick Foundation Inc., the National Emergency Medicine Association, the Ben and Esther Rosenbloom Foundation, the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development and Willard Hackerman, owner of Whiting-Turner Construction Co.

Hammer said the cost of the ship renovations will be $4.3 million. He said more than $1 million has been spent. Other funds are expected to come from Baltimore City and Baltimore welfare-to-work demonstration grants and client payments.

Backing Project Life yesterday at a news conference were Baltimore Democratic state Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman; Dr. Barbara Heller, dean of the nursing school; Dr. Peter Beilenson, city health commissioner; James Tschechtelin, president of Baltimore City Community College; and Dr. Stanley Platman, clinical psychiatry professor at the University of Maryland and Project Life board chairman.

Hammer, who said he draws a salary of $30,000 a year, is a self-described past abuser of drugs and alcohol. He said the ship, when operating at capacity in perhaps three years, may serve up to 300 women in residence at a time and up to 3,600 women a year.

Built in 1944 as a cargo ship, the vessel became a Navy hospital ship. After World War II, it evacuated thousands of Americans, British, Dutch, Australians and Indonesians who had been prisoners of the Japanese.

The Sanctuary was decommissioned in 1946 and reactivated by the Navy from 1961 to 1975 to treat Vietnam War casualties.

Project Life's predecessor, Life International, bought the ship from the Navy for $10 in 1989.

Pub Date: 12/02/97

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