Catholic Charities to run ecumenical builder's Green House for seniors

When the Govans Ecumenical Development Corp. opens its trend-setting Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Green House Residences at Stadium Place this spring, GEDCO won't be running the long-term elder care community.

The operator will be Catholic Charities.

GEDCO, a builder of affordable housing for seniors in north and northeast Baltimore, plans to open the new $12.6 million facility, considered a model for Maryland, officially April 19, with Gov. Martin O'Malley expected to be on hand.

A job fair, mostly for registered nurses and geriatric nurses' aides, is set for Thursday, Jan. 19, and Saturday, Jan. 21, at GEDCO's Venable II apartment complex at Stadium Place, 1030 E. 33rd St.

But Catholic Charities, not GEDCO, is organizing the job fair and will be responsible for hiring and day-to-day management of the Green House, including paying the staff, bills, and rent to GEDCO, said GEDCO Executive Director Mitchell Posner.

Two banners will hang near the front entrance, one for Catholic Charities saying, "Cherishing the divine within," and the other saying, "GEDCO: Building caring and compassionate communities."

GEDCO operates its other housing complexes, including the Venable and Ednor apartment buildings at Stadium Place, on the site of the old Memorial Stadium. But, since the Green House will require skilled nursing care, GEDCO is handing the management reins over to Catholic Charities, which has experience in that part of the health care industry, Posner said.

Although Posner envisions the Green House Residences as "a next step" in the continuum of health care for seniors in Maryland, "we're not in the business of running a skilled nursing care facility," he said. "We're good at developing buildings."

He said Catholic Charities already manages similar facilities including the 162-bed St. Elizabeth Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Baltimore, and that Catholic Charities would be the "most compatible" partner to run the Green House Residences.

During a tour Friday, Jan. 13, Posner and Catholic Charities director of media relations Bob Keenan showed the mostly completed Green House building with its views of the city skyline. Each of the four floors is like a 12-bedroom apartment, with its own common kitchen, dining and living room areas called "hearths," dens for watching TV and socializing, therapeutic spa rooms, and group porches overlooking a ball park between Stadium Place and the Y of Central Maryland.

The park was built by a foundation run by former Oriole Cal Ripken Jr. and his family and is run by the Y, Posner said.

The building as a whole will have a staff of about 50 working around the clock in eight-hour shifts, including geriatric aides trained to Green House standards and known as Shahbazim.

Catholic Charities is also advertising for the positions of "house" nurses, "life enrichment professional," "elder advocate" (a social worker and housekeepers.

"They're really a leader in the city," Posner said of Catholic Charities. "This is an area of expertise that we don't have. It's a medical model (and) licensed differently by the state."

Ecumenical commitment

Posner said he doesn't expect any problems stemming from the fact that Catholic Charities is faith-based and GEDCO is more ecumenical.

"We kind of leave that at the door, if you will," he said.

He noted that a division of Catholic Charities builds affordable housing.

"They don't just do it for Catholics, and they don't try to convert them," he said.

Posner also said that part of GEDCO's mission statement is to work in partnership with faith-based communities to help people in need.

"That's what brings us together," he said.

Posner also noted that GEDCO is in preliminary discussions with Presbytery Senior Living, based in Pennsylvania, about collaborating on a project to build market-rate apartments for seniors.

"I strongly believe we can only get things done by partnering with like-minded organizations with complimentary strengths," Posner said.

Catholic Charities spokeswoman Kerrie Burch-Deluca said the organization, which runs 86 projects in the area from Our Daily Bread in the city to St. Vincent's Villa in Timonium, considers itself ecumenical, and that serving people of all faiths "is very important to us."

Catholic Charities seeks partnerships "wherever we can," from corporate to private, Burch-Deluca said.

Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who requested the job fair, said she is not worried that Catholic Charities will bring an overtly religious role as manager of the residences. And, she noted that retired Rev. Jack Sharp of Govans Presbyterian Church and the Rev. Ed Kenney of St. Mary of the Assumption were past presidents of GEDCO. Sharp is GEDCO's founder.

Model for Maryland

Clarke said she is excited about the project as a potential model for Maryland.

"It's a much more humane way to live in long-term care," Clarke said.

Nate Sweeney of Catholic Charities, who will be "community leader" and the licensed administrator at the Greenhouse residences, said the partnership with GEDCO is "interesting and unique."

He said Catholic Charities is a leader in "culture change" in the field of long-term care, part of an effort to de-institutionalize the industry so that people aren't "living on someone else's schedule and having their individuality completely looked over for the sake of convenience."

The Green House model of "resident-centered care," part of a reform movement to make nursing homes more like people's own homes, is the first in the state under that name, Posner said.

Nationwide, there are 124 Green Houses, 30 under construction and 78 in development, according to the nonprofit, northern Virginia-based Green House Projects, a division of NCB Capital Impact.

Posner said he knows of two other similar models, the one at St. Elizabeth's and one at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center in northwest Baltimore. That model features long-term rehabilitation services featuring units called "neighborhoods," according to the Levindale website.

According to GEDCO's website, Green House Residences fill a need for lower-income seniors who can't function independently and need long-term care, but whose options are limited to being cared for by their families or in traditional nursing homes that accept people with private insurance in multi-patient rooms.

"The Green House Residences will showcase a better alternative for elders and communities trying to provide for them," states GEDCO's site,

Posner said it means Green House residents will be "in control of their own schedules, including the option "to sleep until 1 o'clock and have lightly buttered toast."

"It's the trend of where things are going," Sweeney said.

Each floor will have one long dining table at which all residents of that floor will gather for meals home-cooked by the staff. Sweeney described it as "communal and familial," and said there's a symbolic message.

"You're saying everyone has a place at the table."

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