Harborside Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Harborside Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Baltimore will shut down within the next month. (Baltimore Sun photo by Karl Merton Ferron / August 29, 2012)

Nearly 70 elderly patients and vulnerable adults must find new homes because of the planned closure of Harborside Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Baltimore, a sprawling facility with numerous fire hazards uncovered in a recent state inspection.

The nursing home — the first in Maryland to accept AIDS patients in 1985 — will shut down within the next month after Medicaid and Medicare stop paying for patient care. The federal health care programs decided to cut off funding after a March inspection by the state found more than 30 safety violations, primarily due to structural problems.

The company that owns Harborside, Baton Rouge, La.-based Ravenwood Healthcare Inc., filed for bankruptcy in April and put the facility up for sale. With no buyers and facing the loss of payments for patient care, the company decided to shut down.

"Originally constructed as a hotel, the building's age, layout and structure posed problems, both in terms of day-to-day operations and compliance with modern nursing home building code standards," said Cindie Pittman, Ravenwood's chief financial officer, in a statement. "Ravenwood Healthcare Inc. lacks the financial resources to modernize the building and to continue absorbing the mounting operating losses."

Ravenwood operated the nursing home, at the corner of Paca and West Franklin streets, since 1996, Pittman said.

Eric Moss, 54, and his mother, Lois Henry, said they're upset by the way the closure has been handled. Although residents have 30 days to move, Moss said he and other residents were made to feel that they needed to leave immediately. Residents were told last Friday that Harborside was closing, Moss said.

"I feel for the people who might not have a place to go," said Henry, 81. "I thought it was terrible that they waited until the last minute. Everyone is upset because they don't know what the next day will bring."

Moss, whose leg was amputated about two years ago, suffered a stroke in March and lost much of the mobility in his right hand.

"It's bad for everyone else; it's good for me," said Moss, who's looking forward to his move to a Genesis HealthCare facility in Baltimore.

Advocates are watching over the transition to ensure residents' rights are protected and that each of Harborside's 66 remaining residents finds a new home, according to Alice H. Hedt, Maryland's long-term care ombudsman. City ombudsmen have visited the facility daily.

Leaving the facility will be difficult for the residents, Hedt said.

"No matter how the facility has ranked on inspections, that is still the place the person lived," she said. "It's very important that the residents know they have time to make their decision and move and also that they have a right to choice. They shouldn't feel pressured to go to one place or another."

Nursing homes rarely close, said Dori Henry, spokesperson for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which oversees the facilities. Clearview Nursing Home in Hagerstown was the last in Maryland to close, in 2006.

State inspectors assessed Harborside between Feb. 29 and March 9 to determine whether the nursing home met standards for funding from Medicare and Medicaid, the government's insurance programs for senior citizens and low-income and disabled individuals.

Among the 33 deficiencies identified were blocked doors and gaps in the ceilings and walls that would allow smoke to spread. Inspectors also found improperly stored oxygen tanks, residents' doors with noncompliant locks and improperly identified exits. Routine cooking set off a kitchen fire alarm, causing the Baltimore City Fire Department to respond.

The property has a history of fires, including one in 1970 that damaged an air-conditioning tower, another in 1976 that injured four patients and a firefighter, and a third in 1987 that killed a 68-year-old woman. The two later fires were attributed to careless smoking.

The building opened as a hotel in the 1960s. Soul singer James Brown bought it and renamed it the James Brown Motor Inn in 1970. Brown, who once owned a local radio station, occupied a 10-room suite on the fifth floor when in Baltimore.

It was converted into a residential home for the ailing in 1972 and changed hands several times before Ravenwood took over patient care.

Former resident Barrin Spivey, 43, of Arbutus said when he arrived at the nursing home from prison in 2008 with multiple sclerosis, he could not walk and could barely feed himself. He left about two years later able to walk and live on his own.

"These staff people here are so genuine. They care," Spivey said. "For this facility to be shut down is so wrong."

It's unclear what will happen to Harborside's staff. The nursing home notified the state this week that it let go 71 workers in a round of layoffs that took effect Saturday. Several workers declined to talk outside the facility on a recent day.

The state health department worked with the company to keep Harborside operating, but a plan to correct problems at the facility was unacceptable, said Henry, the spokeswoman. The state recommended that the federal government terminate Harborside's participation in the Medicaid and Medicare programs.

That termination will be effective Sept. 17, according to Lorraine A. Ryan, a spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Baltimore Sun librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

ywenger@baltimoresun.com

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