Shirley Dickens, 72, didn't much care for the nursing homes she lived in before moving to the new Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Green House Residences at Stadium Place.
But Dickens, who is confined to a wheelchair, has no such complaints about her new home on the site of the old Memorial Stadium on East 33rd Street, east of Waverly.
"I love it," said Dickens, who was the first person to move into the $12.6 million facility that opened officially Thursday with 200 well-wishers and a bevy of city and state legislators applauding, including State Del. Curt Anderson, Cty Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, and council presidentBernard C. "Jack" Young.
In a grand-opening ceremony styled after opening day for the Orioles, Dickens had the honor of throwing out the symbolic first pitch.
"Down here, people are different and they treat you better," she said beforehand, clutching a baseball in one hand and in the other, a large, foam finger-waver with the word, "Elders Rule."
Elders being in charge of their lives, not being tied to the confines of a typical nursing home, is exactly the point of the new 48-room residence hall.
It is run by Catholic Charities and was built by the Govans Ecumenical Development Corp., a nonprofit, faith-based developer of affordable housing for seniors. GEDCO divided the building into four floors, each one offering group home-style quarters for seniors, so they can live comfortably, even as they get the skilled nursing care they need, say GEDCO and Catholic Charities officials.
"Elders will be able to wake up tomorrow when they want to, in the tranquility of their own home," said Terry Simonette, president and chief executive officer of Northern Virginia-based NCB Capital Impact, which helped finance project in a public-private partnership, along with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Weinberg Foundation, Baltimore City, the state and private donors.
"I like the concept," said Dickens' daughter, Shirley G. Dickens. "This is her home, not a nursing home."
Dickens is one of three seniors who moved in last week. The other residents will be phased in over the next four months, said Nate Sweeney, of Catholic Charities, "community leader" and licensed administrator of Green House Residences.
"You need three people to license the building, so we moved three people in," Sweeney said. He said the thinking was, "Let's not flood it with people moving in," and since many people are still applying, "We're looking to do three or four admissions a week."
For GEDCO Executive Director Mitchell Posner, who has been working on the Green House project and raising money for it since 2005, "There's no better feeling."
Posner said GEDCO has been raising money for the project since Johns Hopkins' Bayview Hospital donated 49 expiring nursing care licenses to the organization.
The facility offers views of the city skyline. Each of the four floors is like a 12-bedroom apartment, with its own common kitchen, dining and living room areas called "hearths," dens for watching TV and socializing, therapeutic spa rooms and group porches overlooking a ball park between Stadium Place and the Y of Central Maryland.
The park was built by a foundation run by former OrioleCal Ripken Jr.and his family and is run by the Y.
The building as a whole will have a staff of about 50 working around the clock in eight-hour shifts.
GEDCO operates its other housing complexes at Stadium Place, including the Venable and Ednor apartment buildings. But since the Green House Residences will require skilled nursing care, GEDCO is handing the management duties to Catholic Charities, which has experience in that part of the health care industry.
The Green House model of "resident-centered care," part of a reform movement to make nursing homes more like people's own homes, is the first state-certified one under that name.
Nationwide, there are 124 Green Houses, 30 under construction and 78 in development, according to the nonprofit Green House Projects, a division of NCB Capital Impact.
According to GEDCO's website, Green House Residences fills a need for lower-income seniors who can't function independently and need long-term care, but whose options are limited to being cared for by their families or in traditional nursing homes that accept people with private insurance in multi-patient rooms.
"The Green House Residences will showcase a better alternative for elders and communities trying to provide for them," states GEDCO's site, http://www.gedco.org.
"We used to have home plate," Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke told the crowd at Thursday's opening ceremonies. "Now we have home sweet home."