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'On faith'

Holly Place stays open while options explored

Holly Place stays open while options explored

February 20, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

HAGERSTOWN

tammyb@herald-mail.com

New options have emerged for Holly Place and Holly Place North since operators of the assisted living facilities announced two weeks ago that they would close next month.

An outpouring of community support, as well as attempts by local lawmakers to secure more help from the state government, prompted Senior Living Alternatives Inc., which runs Holly Place, to rescind its notice of closure this week and stay open, said Douglas Wright Jr., the agency's president.

And a new player, Interfaith Housing Alliance Inc., is exploring options for helping Holly Place with long-term solutions that will allow Senior Living Alternatives to continue serving its low-income clients.

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Wright said the decision to stay open came after the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly agreed to ask Gov. Robert Ehrlich to consider including $150,000 in short-term funding for Holly Place if he submits a supplemental budget plan this year.

Delegation Chairman Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, drafted a letter to Ehrlich on behalf of the delegation, asking not only for the money, but also for Ehrlich to request a federal waiver that would dedicate Medicaid beds to the facility.

But none of that is certain, and even if the money were granted, it wouldn't be available before July 1.

If Ehrlich does not offer the money, "it would be extremely disheartening and would make us revisit our decision," Wright said Friday. "We recognize nothing is guaranteed 'til it's guaranteed, and even then it isn't guaranteed."

Still, when the board at Senior Living Alternatives learned the delegation was asking for the money, "we had to respond in a positive way," Wright said, and agreed "on faith" to stay open.

"For the sake of our folks, we're gonna give this thing a whirl," he said.

Holly Place and Holly Place North, on South Potomac Street in Hagerstown, offer assisted living for 30 moderate- and low-income residents. If the homes were to close, Wright has said many would qualify under Medicaid for other care. But several would not, and had no other place to go.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said Friday that he had been assured by Anthony McCann, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, that those residents would be cared for, but McCann didn't give any specifics.

But "he absolutely assured me that they would be taken care of, and frankly I'm going to hold him to that," Munson said.

Wright noted that pledges of support have come from several community sources, including $40,000 from the City of Hagerstown. The plight of Holly Place also has attracted attention from Interfaith Housing Alliance Inc., a secular not-for-profit organization founded in 1989 by Western Maryland's religious community in response to a need for affordable housing in the region. Interfaith has built housing for senior citizens throughout Western Maryland, including the Francis Murphy Apartments near Robinwood Medical Center.

Interfaith President James Upchurch was hesitant to talk about discussions he'd had about Holly Place because it is "probably premature." He did say the organization had been in contact with Shank and with Hagerstown Mayor William Breichner about getting involved with Holly Place.

"We must do more investigation," Upchurch said. Right now, he said, there's "more visions and ideas than realities." But he said Interfaith would be interested in being part of a long-term plan for Holly Place.

For example, he said, Interfaith might explore opening other facilities for assisted living, and converting the Holly Place buildings for independent living - which may be a more efficient use for those buildings.

"But that's not something you do overnight," he cautioned.

One issue that both Upchurch and Shank noted is that the state Department of Housing Community Development holds liens on several loans to Holly Place. The debts total about $700,000.

"There are a lot of good ideas out there, all of which need more investigation," Upchurch said.

He said the problems facing Holly Place are symptoms of a larger issue.

"As a society, we have to come to grips with the fact that we soon are going to have a large number of people with moderate incomes who first are going to need independent housing, and the assisted living," he said. "It's part of a bigger picture crisis," he added, one that should serve as "a wake-up call to the region."

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