The D.C. Village Inspirational Choir will celebrate its fourth anniversary today with a concert there -- at the city's home for the elderly and disabled -- to raise additional money for new furniture and better living conditions in the children's ward for the mentally retarded.
The choir and other groups of employes have already raised $10,000 for the project, but the funds have remained in the choir's savings account because city officials have refused to let the employes make the improvements.
Instead, officials of the D.C. Department of Human Services, which operates D.C. Village, have repeatedly promised to correct the conditions. But nothing has happened.
"Although the improvements haven't been done, the quality of care hasn't suffered," said Andrew McBride, D.C.'s commissioner of public health, whose office runs D.C. Village. "These improvements really don't matter to the patients, as long as they are taken care of," he said.
The 33 residents of the children's ward live amid bare walls and floors, tattered curtains and shabby furniture, including bureaus with missing handles that are pried open by staffers using knives and forks.
The residents, who range in age from 7 to 19, are mildly to profoundly retarded, and also have severe physical disabilities. They are likely to spend their entire lives in institutions, according to the professonals who work with them.
The 10-room ward is located near the rear of the low red-brick buildings.
Earlier this year, adult residents of the ward were moved to other wards at D.C. Village.
For almost two years, the staff and employes of D.C. Village complained about conditions in the ward to the Department of Human Services, headed by the public health commissioner.
Tired of asking for the improvements, the employes, in May 1983, organized to raise money to transform the ward's shabby and institutional appearance into a cheerful homelike setting.
McBride said he has ordered $46,000 in supplies for a new acoustical suspending ceiling system, improved lighting, security doors, bright paint for the whole ward, new draperies and cubicle curtains.
But he would give no firm date for the start of the work.
In March, McBride's precedessor Ernest Hardaway, promised to make the needed improvements.
"I feel so good I could just cry," said Barbara Edgerton after receiving news of the renovation plans. "The . . . furniture we have in the ward now is borrowed from an empty ward across the hall. We still don't have any decent furniture to call our own, and this will have to go back as soon as something can be worked out," Edgerton said.
Edgerton, choir president and a nurse in the geriatric unit at D.C. Village, said the remodeling of the children's ward is just the beginning for beautifying the entire facility.
In a related development last March, staffers complained that it was difficult to get residents confined to wheelchairs or those unable to sit up to the bathing area. Michael Bonner, executive assistant to McBride said the problem was corrected last summer by removing some walls to allow easier access to wheelchairs and stretchers.
But staff members said the problem remains.
"They did come and do some work in the bath facilities, but you still have to do too much maneuvering to get the stretchers in and out," said Dr. James Barnes. He and others said that if there ever was an emergency and the bath area was needed in a hurry, they would have a crisis. CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, Peeling paint and damaged celing tiles are only two of the manifestations of decay at D.C. Village, the District government's home for the mentally handicapped. Despite poor conditions, the city has refused to allow employes to make repairs with the $10,000 that has already been raised by private groups. D.C. officials continue to promise that repairs will be made, but no date for such work has been set. City officials maintain that "the quality of care hasn't suffered." PHOTOS BY MOLLY ROBERTS FOR THE WASHINGTON POST