A fully equipped Northwest Washington medical building, virtually unused for eight years, is being renovated to house long-term nursing home patients.
The J.B. Johnson medical building, at 1st and K streets NW, is being rehabilitated by both the District of Columbia and the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) at a cost of $2.6 million.
"The nursing home will provide badly needed services," said Frances Bowie, a spokeswoman at the D.C. Department of Human Services (DHS). The facility is expected to house 225 patients, including 150 from St. Elizabeths Hospital. "The nursing home will provide housing for patients who no longer require psychiatric care," she said.
In the midst of the low income Shaw community, near Gonzaga High School, J.B. Johnson has been plagued by vandalism and burglaries.
Stored in the building was more than $200,000 worth of equipment including X-ray machines, dental units, a walk-in refrigerator, wheel chairs, beds and mattresses.
The equipment has been taken to St. Elizabeths Hospital until J.B. Johnson opens in September, a DHS spokesman said.
Named for the black physician who headed Howard University's first cardiology research division, the facility was publicized as a national model for quality medical care in the inner city.
Originally, the building was to include a center for local health care in addition to beds for the elderly and chronically ill. The project was sponsored by an affiliate of a black-run medical association.
From the beginning, the J.B. Johnson project was plagued with problems. The black-owned construction firm which built the facility went bankrupt and federal funding for the project dried up.
When the facility was completed in 1972, it received yet another blow. A serious Chicago nursing home fire resulted in more stringent national fire safety standards being written for medical facilities. Under the new standards, the J.B. Johnson building was found to have many deficiencies.
According to Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) records, code violations including a lack of fireproof construction in sleeping areas, insufficient ventilation in the boiler room, a lack of fire extinguishers and inadequate emergency lighting. It would have cost an estimated $450,000 to remedy the problems.
In addition, the building had elevator problems, plumbing defects and inoperable heating systems, according to James Pittman, executive officer for the National Institute on Mental Health. "These problems meant that the facility could not meet HEW or District standards and could not operate," he said.
As a result of its problems, HUD foreclosed on the facility in 1976 and later transferred ownership to HEW. Within the next three weeks, DHS officials said, ownership of the building will again be transferred, this time to the District.
At one time, the lower floors of the J.B. Johnson building were used for a drug treatment center.