A major partner in a program that would help women recovering from drug addiction aboard a former Navy vessel is pulling out of the project, its funding in jeopardy because of uncertainty about the ship's berth in Baltimore.
The University of Maryland School of Nursing won a federal grant two years ago to provide health care and training aboard the former hospital ship, called the Sanctuary. But that project has been stalled for years by a court battle with the Maryland Port Administration over whether its organizers have a right to a permanent berth at a state-owned pier.
Project Life, the nonprofit organization that owns the Sanctuary, filed a request for a preliminary injunction in U.S. District Court in Baltimore late Wednesday, asking a judge to order the port to allow the program to operate on the ship until the berth issue is resolved. In the court filing, Project Life attorneys said they made the request to preserve the nursing grant, the loss of which would cause "irreparable harm."
The $600,000 grant to the nursing school was to finance training of student nurses, provide basic health screening to more than 700 recovering women a year and prepare the women to find jobs. It was also to pay for evaluation of women for admission to the program.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has told the school it will reclaim $300,000 in grant money that is unspent if the Sanctuary program is not in operation by fall.
Jo Martin, a spokeswoman for the nursing school, said the school can't promise to have the program in place by that time, and has decided it must abandon the project. "We can't assign faculty. We can't assign students," Martin said. "We're just going to terminate the grant. It's very unfortunate, because we really believe in the program."
Stephen Hammer, a founder of Project Life, said he was surprised to hear that the university planned to pull out regardless of the court action. He said he had begun to fear a year ago that any state agencies involved with the project would come under pressure because of the lawsuit.
"If this is true, we feel hurt that the University of Maryland nursing school didn't have the courtesy to tell us," Hammer said. "To replace the services of that organization will take more than one group of folks. We can make this thing happen. But [losing] that grant would [do] irreparable damage."
The project has spent more than $1 million in government and private money to renovate sections of the ship, which has been moored temporarily at North Locust Point Marine Terminal.
Representatives of the Locust Point neighborhood, including state Sen. George W. Della Jr. and Del. Brian K. McHale, have objected to berthing the ship there. They say the pier should be used for economic development, and that having people living amid cranes and heavy trucks could be dangerous.
Project Life contends that the port commission, by denying it a permanent berth, has discriminated against the drug-addicted women the project aims to serve. It is suing under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act, arguing that the law requires the state to provide a "reasonable accommodation" for the addicts.
In court, the state argued that the port wasn't built for dwellings of any kind. But it has discussed offering the Sanctuary berths at the Locust Point terminal and off Childs Street. Neighborhood opposition and concern about the condition of the berths have impeded progress on that front.