City Unveils Designs for Scaled-Down St. Elizabeths

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By Judith Havemann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 10, 2002; 12:00 AM

The D.C. Department of Mental Health unveiled designs last week for a new, smaller St. Elizabeths Hospital. The $75 million structure would be built around a "treatment mall" so mental patients could move beyond the bedrooms, hallways and large day rooms in which some have lived for years.

Department officials said the building would hold 290 patients, far fewer than the 520 now receiving inpatient treatment. The inpatient population, however, is aging, and the department is required by law to move patients into the community if they can function there.

The new St. Elizabeths would replace dozens of scattered buildings, some of which are more than a century old. The city would retain three of the existing structures closest to the new hospital if additional space is needed, according to Martha B. Knisley, director of the department.

St. Elizabeths, at 2700 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, was built in 1855 as the Government Hospital for the Insane and was turned over to the District in 1987. Its elegant Civil War-era structures lack modern heating, air conditioning, electrical and dining facilities. In some places, water pressure is quite low.

The new hospital, scheduled for completion in 2004, would house mental patients on a single floor with access to the outdoors. Patients sent there by court order and requiring secure facilities would be separated from those in nonsecure facilities, and both would be grouped around a treatment mall.

The mall concept envisions a main street with a barber shop, beauty shop, clothing store and counseling offices, Knisley said. Patients would move from place to place for needed services. The hospital's old buildings have rooms opening onto long hallways, putting elderly patients in close proximity to much younger individuals.

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