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Medical equipment loan closet at former Loch Raven Elementary is closing

Loan Closet last vestige of Baltimore County Health Committees.

Bette Botzler Decker started with the "Z" file cards while her fellow volunteers started at "A" when it came time to call all those who have borrowed medical equipment from the Ninth District Health Committee Loan Closet, located at the former Loch Raven Elementary School.

Everyone who has borrowed a wheelchair, walker, cane or bath stool needs to know: the Loan Closet will close at the end of the year. Equipment must be returned so deposits can be returned.

Decker, who has run the loan closet since she retired as a Baltimore County Health Department nurse in 1983, isn't happy the service is coming to an end. "It's very hard to do," said the Edenwald resident. "I don't like to do it on my watch."

But for her and the other members of the Ninth District Health Committee, all in their 80s, it's time.

The Loan Closet, which has operated since 1952, is the last remnant of a once-vibrant health center system. The county ran 15 health centers — with immunizations, baby clinics, X-ray clinics and the loan closets — from Arbutus to northern Baltimore County.

The county-financed centers were aided by teams of local volunteers, health committees. When the health department disbanded the Ninth District Health Center in the 1990s, the Loan Closet continued on, run completely by the volunteer health committee, according to Decker. She said they raised the funds to buy new equipment and donated their time to keep the operation going. They pay nothing for their space and telephone in a county-owned building that also houses the Greater Loch Raven Recreation Council, Senior Box Office and a YMCA Head Start.

If there were new volunteers to step in, Decker said, the Loan Closet wouldn't have to close.

After Decker, a Govans native, graduated from Towson High School, she studied nursing at Union Memorial Hospital. A resident for 45 years of Glen Arm and 10 in Baldwin, she focused first on raising her four children. Then after her four children were in school, she went to work for Baltimore County, spending 17 years in the health department.

As a nurse at the Cockeysville Health Clinic, she knew how valuable volunteers were. They took care of the loan closet and signed patients in for their appointments. "The health committee was a big help not only to the nurses but to the community," she said.

Decker didn't work with the loan closets until members of the health committee, the local women who volunteered at the clinic, came calling.

They asked her to join them when she retired and she's been volunteering ever since — following the health center and its Loan Closet when it moved from Orchard Tree Lane to the library on Taylor Avenue and then to its latest location, the old Loch Raven school. Now the chairperson, she handles records and bookkeeping and fills in when one of her five volunteers can't make it.

Once open every day along with the health center, the Loan Closet is now only open for two hours on Tuesdays. Though they don't advertise, people come from all over Baltimore County looking for crutches or a transfer seat or some other medical aid. Word-of-mouth brings most people, although the Loan Closet is listed on some organizations' websites.

"Some days you have a lot of people and they come all at once," Decker said. "And some times we sit there all morning."

Equipment remains very much in demand. There's even a waiting list for walkers equipped with wheels and a seat and lightweight wheelchairs.

Helen Marshall, of Anneslie, arrived at the Loan Closet looking for a lightweight wheelchair and left a volunteer. "I will be forever grateful for the Loan Closet," she said.

Marshall wasn't able to go anywhere because her wheelchair was too heavy. "I got a lighter weight one which gave me freedom I haven't had in five years."

Since getting that chair, she has been able to volunteer and knit at Bykota Senior Center, continue her work as an artist and, now, volunteer at the Loan Closet. "If it wsn't for the Loan Closet, I couldn't do any of this," she said, calling the program "a wonderful little gift to the community."

All loans are free although Decker had to institute a deposit when more borrowers failed to return equipment.

"Things weren't coming back," she said.

Loans could be short-term — for someone whose just had surgery and needs a walker— or long-term. In fact, some equipment loaned out more than 10 years ago probably won't ever come back, Decker said. "It's amazing how long some people have some things," she said.

With the closing of the Loan Closet comes a couple of problems. Where should all the equipment go? And who should get the money raised from all those deposits (for equipment that's never been returned)?

Decker said she has some ideas but thats she has called the Baltimore County Department of Aging and is still waiting for their guidance.

The closing of the Loan Closet is hard on those who've spent many years there.

I wish we could find someone to carry on and do it," said Adele McMahon, a Baldwin resident who has volunteered since 1996. "It's much, much needed."

Jane O'Meara, of Timonium, and a 10-year volunteer, said she was glad to be able to help people in times of distress. "People were so appreciative to get equipment they needed. You felt like you were doing someting worthwhile."

The Ninth District Loan Closet, located at 1801 Glen Keith Boulevard (the former Loch Raven Elementary School), is Tuesdays 9:30-11:30 a.m. through December. Phone 410-665-0898.

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