The Howard County Planning Board approved yesterday plans for a home for the elderly in Columbia to be built by a Virginia company that has been investigated in connection with five deaths, lapses in care and building code violations at other homes.
None of those incidents came up, as the board voted 5-0 to approve plans by Sunrise Assisted Living for a three-story facility that will house up to 90 residents. The board is limited to such land-use issues as parking, landscaping and lot layout.
Yesterday's approval paves the way for the building arm of the company, Sunrise Development Inc., to obtain building permits for the structure, which is to be built on 2.6 acres off Freetown Road on the eastern edge of the Hickory Ridge Village Center.
Staff at the company's facilities offer residents help with daily chores such as dressing, bathing and eating in a homelike setting. Sunrise provides a staff nurse for each of its buildings, but no doctors as in nursing homes.
Since it was founded in 1981, the company has grown to 39 homes with 20,000 residents, mainly on the East Coast. The Columbia facility is one of 36 being planned or built.
But the company has had problems at several of its homes. They include a death in Falls Church, Va., that is under investigation; fire and building code violations in Lorton, Va.; and instances of poor care -- including mistakes in medication -- in Kensington.
Company executives defend their record, saying that while accidents occur, residents voluntarily assume a certain amount of risk in exchange for a level of freedom and dignity not afforded by a nursing home.
At yesterday's meeting, planning board members questioned the positioning of the company's proposed Columbia facility, concerned that its back would face residences in the area.
But a company representative said the back would be pleasant, with a "sensory garden" for "confused residents" with Alzheimer's disease or other mentally incapacitating conditions.