City, Abell triumph in drug-site bid

Long-term center would be largest in Baltimore

Former nursing home

Lobbied by group, leading contender withdraws top price

September 01, 2001|By Dan Rodricks | Dan Rodricks,SUN STAFF

With substantial help from a leading philanthropic organization, the city plans to turn a bankrupt nursing home in Northwest Baltimore into a 124-bed residential center to provide intensive, long-term treatment for drug addicts -- creating the largest facility of its kind in town.

The plan survived an 11th-hour bid by a local developer to acquire the property for an assisted-living center.

Apprised of the city's eight-month effort to transform the former Greenspring Nursing and Rehabilitation Center into a large drug-treatment facility, Whistler Development Corp. of Towson announced late yesterday that it would withdraw its high bid of $750,000.

That move appeared to make the Abell Foundation the winning bidder and would clear the way for a major development in the city's intensified attempts to identify and treat the estimated 60,000 Baltimoreans addicted to heroin and cocaine.

The plan for the facility has been in the works since shortly after the nursing home filed for bankruptcy in December.

Early this year, Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems, the quasi-public agency that oversees the city's myriad drug treatment efforts, started working quietly on the project, along with the Abell Foundation. In June, the foundation made the top bid to acquire the nursing home, in the 4600 block of Park Heights Avenue.

"Drug addiction is a major problem in Baltimore," said Robert C. Embry Jr., Abell Foundation president, explaining his support for the plan. "The most effective way to deal with it is through residential treatment."

Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the city health commissioner and BSAS chairman, said the plan met with little community opposition, noting that "innumerable" citizen organizations in Northwest Baltimore, led by the Park Heights Community Health Alliance, gave their support.

"The whole thing was handled very well," said Karen Evans, a longtime community activist in Northwest Baltimore and member of the health alliance. "I've got to hand it to Dr. Beilenson. He worked with the neighborhoods on this."

The city Planning Commission and City Council approved the facility. BSAS recently selected a Philadelphia-based treatment agency to run it.

With 124 beds, the Greenspring treatment center would be the largest in Baltimore, Beilenson said. "This would be the first facility of its kind to open in 20, maybe 30 years," he said.

Tuerk House, which opened in 1970 in West Baltimore to treat alcoholics and drug addicts, provides a 28-day residential treatment program for people with no health insurance. The city's largest facility, it has 75 beds.

Two hospitals offer relatively brief inpatient detoxification programs. The city also funds about 10 small facilities that serve from six to nine residents for an average of six months at a time, according to Beilenson.

The Greenspring facility, he said, would serve up to 1,000 adults in the course of a year, with some addicts receiving treatment over several months.

Beilenson had to check his excitement for the plan when a serious glitch developed last week.

As the deadline approached for bids on the property, and as the attorney overseeing the Greenspring bankruptcy prepared to present the Abell bid to a federal judge for ratification, Whistler Development emerged.

A short and fast bidding war with the Abell Foundation ensued. Whistler bid $750,000 for the property, topping the Abell Foundation by $50,000, according to Embry. The attorney handling the bankruptcy was bound to accept Whistler's bid.

But lobbied heavily by Beilenson, who was determined to salvage the project, Whistler Development withdrew its bid.

Beilenson said he expects the Greenspring facility to open in January.

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