For five years, a five-story fully equipped medical building has stood, almost totally unused, in a low income neighborhood in Northwest Washington - the shell of a dream conceived nearly a decade ago.
The facility was supposed to provide routine medical and dental care as well as hospitalization within a ghetto area deprived of medical care. Envisioned as a model for the nation, it stands as a dramatic example of good intentions gone awry.
"It was ahead of its time. It was a dream of the black physicians of America," says Robert Winston, president of the National Medical Association Foundation Plan Inc. The fundation, originally affiliated with the black Natioanl Medical Association, one of Washington's urban renewal areas for $3.5 million, and then did not have the money to operate it.
Now, security officers are paid $5 and hour to guard the unoccupied building, at 1st and K Streets NW, around the clock to protect it from the burglaries and broken windows that have plagued it.
The facility is located not far from one of the most rundown sections of Northwest Washington and is in the same block as Gonzaga High School. It was named after J. B. Johnson, the black physician who headed Howard University's first cardiology research division.
Inside the brick and stone structure, there is the eerie atmosphere of a ghost town. Equipment that cost $200,000 - beds, mattresses, wheelchairs, dental units, a walk-in refrigerator, sophisticated x-ray equipment and chairs, some blanketed in dust - sit unused.
Pland for the medical facility go back to 1968. During that year, President Lyndon B. Johnson approved a federal grant to help the National Medical Association improve innercity health care in the nation's capital. It was to be a national model of quality medical care in the inner city.
It was an ambitious project that was to include group practice as well as beds for the elderly and chronically ill.
The specific organization that built the D.C. center was named the National Medical Association Foundation Health Facilities Co. Number One, its officials assuming there would be a Number Two in Mississippi, and others to follow wherever they were needed, Winston said.
Almost from the beginning, the project was plagued with problems. The black-owned construction firm hired to build the facility went bankrupt. Between the late '60s and early '70s - Nixon administrations - additional federal grants dried up.Winston said.
The building was dedicated on 24, 1972. Though there already were financial problems, officials optimistically announced later that year that the facility soon would be occupied.
Then, a disastrous fire in a Chicago nursing home in the early 1970s resulted in more stringent life and safety health code standards for medical facilities. The J. B. Johnson building was full of deficiencies under the new code requirements.
The problems - $450,000 worth - were numerous, according to files in the area office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Not enough fire extinguishers and fire doors. The boiler room was not properly enclosed nor properly ventilated. No fire proof construction in sleeping rooms. Insufficient emergency lighting.
Plus, city inspectors apparently failed to detect elevator problems, plumbing defects and inoperable heating systems, according to HUD reports.
Because it did not meet the standards of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, the facility was not eligible for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, perhaps the biggest blow of all.
"We cried many a tear," Winston recalled. The facility had been intended for lower-income patients who would need assistance in paying their bills. Winston said the District of Columbia government offered some help, but it was "too little, too late," he added.
HUD now owns the J. B. Johnson building. It had guaranteed the mortgage on the facility, and foreclosed on the property in July, 1976.
James Clay, area HUD director, said his agency is working with the HEW and the National Institute of Mental Health to find a use for the building. Clay said the 256-bed facility probably will be used as an intermediate health care centre for St. Elizabeths Hospital patients.
"We're hoping that in the next six to nine months there will be somebody in there," Clay said.
Meanwhile, the need for an extended care medical facility for an extended care medical facility in that area still exists, according to a HUD memorandum. The lower floors of the building at one point were used as a drug treatment center, but that program has been moved out.
"It just breaks my heart to see all this highly sophisticated equipment just stitting there," said one area housing official. "It's such a waste."
Henry Alston, housing director for the agency which for 10 years has served as a community residents' advocate in Northwest Washington's impoverished neighborhoods, said he finds it "very disturbing" that the building has remained unused for so many years.
Alston said his organization, the Center City Community Corporation, wants the facility used as a comprehensive health clinic and as an emergency shelter for evicted persons or those displaced by fire - uses he pointed out that would benefit the community for which the J. B. Johnson building was extended.
Clay said part of the delay in finding a use for the building is that District government officials frequently have asked HUD to turn the building over to the local government, and his office essentially must go into a holding pattern while those negotiations take place. Several private organizations also have expressed an interest in the facility.
Clay said it is not certain yet whether the District, if it gets the building, will be charged anything for it.
The District government sued the National Medical Association Foundation Plan last November to recover the $242,000 it had given the organization to set up the health program. That suits is pending. The Foundation Plan no longer is associated with the National Medical Association, and is changing its name, Winston said.