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At D.C. Home, Seniors Pay 'What They Can'

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Residents celebrate Caribbean Day at the Lisner-Louise-Dickson-Hurt Home.
Lisner-Louise-Dickson-Hurt Home
Residents celebrate Caribbean Day at the Lisner-Louise-Dickson-Hurt Home.

Housed in an old Georgian mansion on Western Avenue NW, the Lisner-Louise-Dickson-Hurt Home offers seniors housing and health care, along with activities, such as cooking, field trips and, like so many senior-care facilities, bingo.

"Everybody always goes, 'Oh God, there's bingo.' But if we tried to take bingo away from the residents, there would be a sit-in and walkers would be thrown," says administrator Sue Hargreaves.

A charitable home

Even with the ubiquitous bingo, Hargreaves says, something rather particular sets the Lisner-Louise-Dickson-Hurt Home apart from the other dozen-and-a-half long-term-care facilities in the District.

"We are the only ones that turn away money," she says.

In other words, as a "charitable home," they cater solely to indigent and modest-income seniors.

"So if someone can come in and could afford to pay privately for their life expectancy, we turn them away. Because they've got options that the residents we take care of do not have," Hargreaves says.

Some of these residents, she says, have fallen on hard times.

"You've got people that we've taken from shelters. People who just, you know, had really bad luck, psychiatric issues."

Others have "outlived their money," Hargreaves says. "We had one resident I can think of that her husband was like a well renowned architect, but the money ran out."

And still others were never that well-off to begin with.

"So, when people go, 'Well, why don't families give money?' Well, a lot of the families are struggling themselves," she says.

Looking for a new home

Alvin Ward, 79, is a native Washingtonian whose daughter transferred him from a facility in Maryland, after he lost his second leg to diabetes.

"Where I was at, they wasn't taking care of me. I was getting bed things, they wouldn't change me too often and all of that, so I just wanted to just fade away," he says.

At first his daughter didn't know where to take him.

"She was crying all the time because she knew how miserable I was," Ward says.

And then she heard about the Lisner-Louise-Dickson-Hurt Home.

There's so much wisdom. What they have to share and to give is unbelievable.

"And as soon as I came here, you know, I guess I was inspired because I said, 'I can get another leg!' So I started exercising and all that, so now I can shave and go to the bathroom by myself, and I can almost take care of myself," Ward says.

In fact, Hargreaves says Ward soon might move from the Nursing Facility to the Assisted Living Residence; he isn't quite ready for the Community Residential Facility, where residents live a lot more independently.

Staying afloat, despite financial losses

But no matter where they stay at the Home, in terms of fees, Hargreaves says residents pay "what they can."

Most of them, Hargreaves says, are covered by Medicaid.

"Whatever income they have from SSI or social security helps defray their costs and then Medicaid pays the difference. And certainly we take a loss on every individual," she says.

Last year alone, she says, that loss totaled nearly $1.5 million.

So, given all that, how does the Lisner-Louise-Dickson-Hurt Home stay afloat?

"We're just a phenomena in this universe," Hargreaves says.

Perhaps. But you’ll also find a clue in the Home’s name. The renowned local philanthropist, Abram Lisner, actually designated in his will to establish a home that eventually became the Lisner-Louise-Dickson-Hurt Home.

Plus, says Hargreaves, they do have an endowment.

"[But] people have to support that endowment because if we kept augmenting the way we needed to, and as unfunded mandates come down the pike, and then expenses that aren't being reimbursed, it would be gone fairly quickly," she says.

Community appreciation of seniors

The Home also has a big, annual fundraiser: an art sale, featuring original works by residents. In fact, all the artwork at the Sushiko restaurant in Chevy Chase is from the residents.

And that makes the entire Home proud, Hargreaves says. Because it's just one way the community is showing its appreciation of seniors.

"There's so much wisdom. What they have to share and to give is unbelievable. I wouldn't get married to my current husband until I got approval from the residents. I wanted some of my closest resident friends to give me the thumbs up! They're smart," she says.

And in a city where so many seniors are struggling to get by, at least these seniors might be seeing their golden years become a little bit more golden.

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