A D.C. health planning committee has voted to revoke a certificate that the Masonic and Eastern Star Nursing Home needs to continue operating because it found the home has a policy of admitting whites only.
The committee found that no blacks have ever lived in the home at 6000 New Hampshire Ave. NE, although there are about 10,000 black men and women belonging to Masonic lodges in the city.
"All facilities should demonstrate they follow the standing laws in that community," said Dr. Carlessia Hussein, director of the State Health Planning and Development Agency, whose advisory committee rejected the home's "certificate of need" application last Thursday. "The District's interpretation of the U.S. Civil Rights Act does not square with their policy of not having it open to all Masons."
Officials of the home told committee members that the home's charter, which was issued by Congress in 1902, "supersedes" the requirements of District health laws. The charter says the home should be operated for "needy and worthy" Masons "of this jurisdiction" and their widows and orphans.
"Our strong position is that this home is entitled to proceed by an act of the Congress of the United States and we're not in violation of any civil rights statutes whatsoever," Thomas Raysor, the home's attorney, told the committee, according to tapes and transcripts of the proceedings.
Richard L. Culver, president of the home, said at the committee hearing that no policy prohibits blacks.
He said that black Masons would have to petition to become members of one of the District's white lodges in order to be considered for admission to the home. The fact that "close to 90 percent of our employes are colored" shows that "we are not partial in any way," he said, according to a tape of the hearing.
Neither Raysor nor Culver could be reached for further comment yesterday.
Roscoe Ayers, editor of the Masonic Digest, a newspaper issued to 24 black lodges in the city, said no black is a member of a white lodge in the District.
"One blackball against any man who comes into Masonry rejects him, and it's a secret ballot," said Ayers. "They're just pushing segregation in a country while asking to be exempted from taxes." He said there are eight to 10 white members of black lodges in the District.
The 65-bed home needs the city certificate to continue a $1.1 million renovation to allow its aged buildings to meet city health and safety codes. If the codes are not met, the home's health license will be in jeopardy.
In 1973, the home gave up nearly $100,000 yearly in federal Medicaid payments to residents rather than revise its admission policies, which the D.C. government found at that time were discriminatory.
The home also was cited by city health inspectors in 1984 and 1985 for violating the U.S. Civil Rights Act "because it does not admit residents of a minority race," but the city inspection agency took no action against the home. In addition, the inspectors cited the home for violations of health and safety standards and for poor patient care.
Raysor, who defended the home in 1973 and in its recent hearing, noted in the committee hearing that the home was built with contributions of white lodges and that black Masons are "not supporting the home financially . . . . Of course they could establish their own facility."
He noted, "We have members of the Catholic faith who are Masons. It's nondiscriminatory."
The Ancient Free and Accepted Masons is a worldwide fraternity that traces its roots to the Middle Ages. Its female auxiliary is called the Eastern Star.
A separate network of Masonic lodges with black members developed after Prince Hall, a black Mason from Barbados, was given a charter to establish a lodge in Boston in 1848.
The Masonic and Eastern Star Home is typical of several fraternal and church-run nursing homes in the city that have not admitted blacks, said Juanita Thornton, the former head of the D.C. Commission on Aging, whose complaints launched a city investigation of such practices in 1983.
"Many of the blacks have to remain in hospitals because the homes won't receive them," Thornton said. "They give feeble excuses, but they're not following civil rights laws."
A Department of Human Services investigation substantiated most of Thornton's complaints, but little progress has been made, according to Anne Hart, long-term care ombudsman for the District.
"It's an outrage," Hart said. "It's widely known that the Masonic home doesn't accept black people, yet the city has been allowing it to go on under its nose. It's especially wrong in a city with such a high black population . . . and one that condemns apartheid."
Raysor told the committee that to allow Masons from other lodges into the home would violate its congressional charter.
Margaret Graves, project director for the D.C. health planning agency, responded, "Congress is looking very hard at leveling some kind of sanction on South Africa. Do you think they would really frown upon an amendment to a 1902 charter?"
Raysor answered, "Gosh, I don't know . . . . I certainly am sympathetic to the South African situation, but I don't think that we can become involved in that at this point."
The revocation action will be voted on by the full State Health Coordinating Council on Sept. 12. A final decision will be issued by director Hussein on Sept. 20, she said.