The Unitarian Church of Anne Arundel County this week signed a lease on what will be the county's first home for AIDS patients.
The house in Arnold has space for three HIV-positive patients who need around-the-clock supervision.
Right now, there are no inpatient hospices and no group homes which provide living specifically for individuals who are HIV-positive in the county, said project coordinator Diane Goforth.
The idea for a home originated last winter, when Suzanne Ochs, a nurse and church member who had experience with AIDS cases from working for the county Health Department, realized her clients often had nowhere to go after being released from the hospital. They ended up living in emergency shelters.
Ms. Ochs and a colleague pitched the idea for a group home to their 300-member church, which supported the concept.
Research turned up two such houses in the Baltimore area, one on the Eastern Shore for three AIDS patients run by a Franciscan brother, and one five-person house in Baltimore run by a nonprofit organization.
They discovered that federal funds were available for providing housing for AIDS patients through the Ryan T. White Comprehensive AIDs Resources Emergency Act.
Ms. Goforth, then president of the church's board of trustees, checked with the minister, Fred Muir. The congregation had been looking for just such a hands-on social action project, he agreed.
The church board unanimously approved the project, and the church submitted a grant request to the federal government, which was approved in June.
The eight-month federal grant awarded the project $41,622 with a possible maximum of three years' funding. By then, Ms. Goforth said, the church hopes to have support from the community to run the home.
In addition to the grant, the house project received $500 from St. Mary's Catholic Church and $200 from the Unitarian church to open a checking account.
An advisory board came together with representatives from the county AIDS Coalition, the county Health Department, Annapolis Area Ministries, the county Department of Social Services and the county HIV AIDS Volunteer Enrichment Network, known as HAVEN, as well as members of the Unitarian Church and other interested local church organizations.
Last week, the project board hired a resident manager, the primary caretaker, who will do the cooking, shopping, cleaning and most importantly, said Ms. Goforth, "make a warm, comfortable home."
The house turned up through the help of a county resident who had had a friend with AIDS who died alone because he didn't want to "bother" anybody. The woman, who is not a member of the Unitarian Church, told the board about a house that was for rent, a Cape Cod on a large lot in Arnold with four bedrooms on the first floor and a full upstairs.
"She went the extra mile for us. So many people have jumped in to help," said Ms. Goforth.
Within two months, an uncle of one parishioner donated half the furnishing of his summer house, from twin beds to a grill. Other church members and county residents gave rugs, hospital beds and a washing machine.
Volunteers from Love and Action, an Annapolis-based Christian ministry focusing on people with AIDS, the Lighthouse Shelter in Annapolis and the HAVEN group have agreed to visit residents of the home and try to help meet emotional needs. Church members will also bring meals.
The house is now equipped to provide living space for three patients and the Resident Manager, Ms. Goforth said.
"The house is kind of off by itself, so I don't think having AIDS patients move in [to the community] is going to be an issue," she said. "It's a bit isolated."
To qualify to live in the home, people must have been diagnosed with AIDS or have two HIV-related conditions or illnesses. They must need medical assistance in the activities of daily living. They must be drug-free; if they've been chemically-dependent, they must be in recovery.
Out of 45 phone inquiries regarding applicants, the board has chosen is first three clients. Hospice care will be covered by the residents' medical assistance, Medicare, private insurance, private-pay or the Hospice of the Chesapeake.
The project board has finally come up with a name for the house, though it looks at first glance like a misspelling: Ouur House. The acronym actually stands for Unitarian Universalist, but it also represents everyone who has helped put the project together -- "You and You," explains Ms. Goforth.
The Unitarians are now waiting for approval of the property's sewage system. They hope to have the place ready for tenants within a week.