The lobby of the Mason F. Lord Building looked almost like a classroom on the first day of school, with 13 chairs lined up in rows, 13 faces staring anxiously forward, and school buses lined up outside.
But the chairs were wheelchairs, and the faces belonged not to fidgety students, but to apprehensive adults.
As the morning progressed, more than 100 nursing home residents were transported from their rooms in the Lord building of the Francis Scott Key Medical Center to a new geriatric care facility several hundred yards away.
Although the move was short in distance, the change was momentous for many of the elderly patients. The residents would be moving from a dilapidated, 1860s-vintage building to a modern home with skylights and private bathrooms, but some were so nervous that they hardly noticed the beauty of their new home.
One elderly man cowered in his wheelchair, clutching a brown paper bag that held his belongings and staring with wide eyes at the school bus that would cart him off to his new home inside the Johns Hopkins Geriatric Center.
The man was frightened, and his nurse tried to reassure him with a gentle hand on his shoulder. After years of living quietly in the same room on the same floor of the same building, he was fearful of change.
"Many of our patients are demented and confused, so the new surroundings are going to be scary for them," said Ann Warwick, director of nursing and the coordinator of the move. "But we tried to prepare the residents in advance so they would know what to expect, and we have people assigned to comfort residents during the move."
Besides organizing the logistics of moving 230 patients in two days, Warwick and her staff tried to plan for the emotional turmoil the residents might face.
"We did lots of assessing to consider what the patients wanted, what their medical conditions would allow, and what the families wanted for them," Warwick said. "We even considered, for example, which patients liked to stay in a hot room, because the new rooms have individual thermostatic controls. Our assessments were down to that level."
The new building, a six-story, 130,000-foot structure, required more than two years and $17.5 million to build. Sunshine is plentiful, in pleasant contrast to the dark and dingy mood of the old building.
But the geriatric center has a different floor plan from the original nursing home, so some patients will have to change roommates, and some staff members must change work teams.
The building, completed last Thursday, may take some adjusting to, but staff members say they are eager to work.