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Md. Guard hopes to use old ship for medical clinic


Not since the Vietnam War have medical services been provided aboard the Sanctuary, an old Navy hospital ship rusting away on the Fairfield waterfront in South Baltimore.

That could change with two new uses of the ship proposed yesterday by the Maryland Army National Guard.

During a planning meeting aboard the ship, Guard officers said they wanted to turn parts of the vessel into "Operation Sanctuary," a free community clinic for the needy that would be run by military personnel one or two weekends a month year-round.

The second proposal was to move GuardCare 1995, a training program that would last at least two weeks next summer and also provide free medical services, to the ship.

But before any Guard activities can begin on the Sanctuary, it must undergo major renovation. An official of Life International, a nonprofit group that bought the vessel from Congress for $10 in 1990, said it still has no funds for necessary repairs estimated to cost $3 million.

Brig. Gen. Philip H. Pushkin, the Deputy Assistant Adjutant General who commands the Maryland Guard's medical personnel, said about 400 Guard members now work some weekends in area hospitals. Consolidating their activities on the 562-foot Sanctuary would allow them to reach more people with their free care, he said.

"It doesn't look like much outside -- it's a bit rusty," he said of the Sanctuary, but added, "This ship has potential . . . as long as we have the space, equipment and we design the program."

Under the GuardCare 1995 proposal to be submitted to federal authorities next week, he said, the two weeks or more of free medical care that would be provided aboard the refurbished vessel would include immunizations, diagnostic services and treatment of acute illnesses.

The GuardCare program began during 1992. Last year, it involved more than 100 military medical personnel who provided immunizations to 2,300 children in the Baltimore area. This year, the GuardCare mission is to immunize adults against flu and pneumonia.

Life International acquired the Sanctuary four years ago in hopes of converting it into a homeless shelter where drug addicts and alcoholics would have access to detoxification and job training. Steven J. Hammer, Life International's board chairman, said the group is seeking funds from Congress and from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.

He said two bills in the House of Representatives propose raising money to refurbish the Sanctuary by selling scrap metal from old military ships. But those bills await Environmental Protection Agency approval, said Maria Kelly, an aide to U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest.

Mr. Gilchrest, who received medical treatment aboard the sister ship of the Sanctuary during the Vietnam War, is co-sponsoring one of the bills with Rep. Helen Delich Bentley.

Life International applied to the Weinberg foundation this month for a $3 million grant to paint and refit the ship, Mr. Hammer said.

Although renovations have not begun, meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and a support group for family members of addicts aboard the ship are attended by about 300 people a week, Mr. Hammer said. The Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. is donating power to the ship, he added.

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