Emily Dicola used to have to travel two hours from her home in West Virginia to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to receive cancer treatments, and then go back the same day.
But this year, she found a free place where people her age could go when they came from out of town for medical care.
“Treatments were really starting to wear me out,” Dicola said. “Especially being almost two hours away. I would have never thought there was such an amazing place.”
Dicola, 25, is one of the first guests to stay at Ulman House, a $2 million “home away from home” for adolescent and young adult cancer patients receiving medical treatment in the Baltimore-Washington area.
Located in the 2100 block of E. Madison Street, it’s also the latest revitalization project within the 88-acre East Baltimore Development Inc. renewal district.
Ulman House was built to fill a need felt by a certain group of cancer patients who travel to Baltimore and Washington for medical care.
Baltimore had the Ronald McDonald House for patients younger than 18 who were receiving medical treatment and needed temporary housing, and it had the Hope Lodge for older adults.
But there was nothing specifically for people in the middle, adolescents and young adults ages 15 to 39. There was also nothing exclusively for people receiving cancer treatment. And there were no options free of charge for young adults who can’t afford to stay at a hotel, on top of their medical expenses.
Today, the nonprofit organization behind Ulman House, the Ulman Foundation, held a ribbon cutting ceremony to mark completion of the project, which planners say is the first of its kind in Maryland and one of the first in the country. (Full disclosure: Ken Ulman, a former director of the foundation and brother of its founder, is one of the owners of Baltimore Fishbowl.)
Nearly 100 people, including Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, came to see what the foundation created and meet some of the first guests who have benefited from the facility.
“The idea for Ulman House was born five years ago, when the demand for transportation and housing during treatment from our patients and families was on the rise,” said Ulman Foundation president and CEO Brock Yetso.
“Despite many great organizations already providing housing, most of them had age limits that prohibited young adults or had waiting lists because of the growing need,” Yetso said. “With the generous support of more than 500 individuals, foundations and corporations, one more barrier to great treatment has been removed.”
Described as a “healthcare hospitality home,” Ulman House is the first residential facility built by the Ulman Foundation, which was established in 1997 by cancer survivor Doug Ulman to support young adults affected by cancer, and their loved ones.
Previously known as the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, the foundation launched a capital campaign to raise $4 million for the Madison Street project, with $2 million going to construction and $2 million more for an endowment and support for programming.
Ulman House was constructed within the shells of six row houses at 2108-2118 E. Madison St., two-story structures that had no landmark protection and might otherwise have been torn down as part of the redevelopment activity taking place nearby. From the outside, it still looks like six separate dwellings, with Formstone removed to reveal their original brick facades.
But those who step inside the bright yellow door in the middle of the block will find that interior walls and floors of the six houses were removed and replaced with a state-of-the-art facility designed to give cancer patients what they need to supplement their medical treatment.
The first level has communal areas for the guests, including a spacious kitchen and dining area, an exercise room, and a place to watch TV and meet others staying there. There’s also a garden out back, plus offices for the Ulman staffers and “navigators” from local hospitals who meet with the guests.
The second floor contains the living quarters: eight separate suites for guests, plus a ninth room for a staffer who stays overnight. It also has a laundry room and library.
The basement includes a music room with a piano, drums, guitars and other instruments, and additional space that can be built out for more activities as funds allow. There’s also a roof deck on top, with views of Johns Hopkins Hospital and other spots in East Baltimore.
Guests themselves or volunteers who come by can prepare meals, and the kitchen has an area where each guest can store his or her own food and cooking supplies.
The foundation worked with East Baltimore Development Inc. to acquire five of the six houses and purchased the other one separately. NW2 was the architect and Jon Cole Builders was the builder. The 12,000-square-foot project has received Silver certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program of the U.S. Green Building Council.
According to the Ulman Foundation, approximately 72,000 young adults are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States, including about 3,000 cases in Maryland. Many hospitals in Baltimore provide outpatient treatment for people traveling from neighboring counties and states, but the treatment is often long and physically draining, requiring them to live near the hospital.
Even before today’s ribbon cutting, directors said, Ulman House has accommodated 42 residents by providing 430 nights of lodging. It’s expected to serve 200 guests a year.
Certain touches show designers have considered how to make Ulman House a memorable destination. Wood recycled from old row houses has been used for the stairs stairs, sliding doors and signs. Large windows have replaced former front doors, a reminder that the property was once six dwellings.
There’s also a large map with push pins that show where all the guests come from (one will soon be coming from Alaska to use the Proton Treatment Center at the University of Maryland BioPark.) Guests and visitors can sign a large chalkboard, dubbed the “Why We Fight” Wall.
According to communications director Sasha Nader, Ulman House is available to people receiving treatment at several different medical centers in the area, including Hopkins, the University of Maryland Medical Center and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. To be eligible, they must live at least 35 miles away from where they are receiving treatment, and they must demonstrate financial need.
Ulman House doesn’t provide medical care, but there are counselors who guests can talk to about what they’re going through.
“Social isolation is one of the most common challenges our patients experience,” said Maeve Koch, the facility’s manager. “We’re excited for Ulman House to be a shared space for young adults to meet each other. Not to mention, the home will allow patients quick access to their care teams at local hospitals and ease the burden of traveling to appointments.”
During today’s event, Dicola disclosed she is now free of cancer and said Ulman House played a key role in her recovery. She stayed there with her husband, Mario.
“At the end of the day, when comfort was what I needed most, Ulman House made me feel at home,” she said. “We never imagined that we would experience such amazing hospitality.”
Ulman House is currently accepting referrals for patients and seeking volunteers to assist in meal preparation and other activities. More information is available at ulmanfoundation.org/ulman-house.