With her two reluctant children in tow, Cheryl Byrd climbed out of her truck yesterday morning and gently pulled them into the Davidsonville Health Center for their winter flu shots.
When she arrived, the 24-year-old mother from Owens was dismayed to learn the public clinic is closing, one of four in the county forced out of business by the state's budget crisis. The next time her children need shots or a checkup, Byrd will have to either drive all the way to Annapolis or visit the Owensville Medical Center, a nearby but unfamiliar community clinic.
"I'm not too happy to hear that. I liked this place," said Byrd, who had come to rely on the friendly, personal medical care at the old-fashioned clinic on Pike Ridge Road. She said she liked the nurses there so much that she transferred her family's medical records from the Churchton Health Center, the other clinic in South County, which will also close Jan. 1.
Health officials had planned to eventuallyshut down the two centers in South County, along with one in Crownsville and another in Severn, because they were steadily losing clientsin the last decade. The state's deficit-reduction package, which slashed government spending on social services and health care, promptedthe Health Department to speed up the move.
To continue services for low-income families in the southern endof the county, the department negotiated an agreement last week with the Owensville Medical Center. Several hundred women and children will be absorbed into the 24-hour-a-day private, community medical center, said Alice Murray, director of clinical services for the Health Department.
More than 350children get pediatric care and immunizations at the two clinics slated to close. Many of their mothers also receive family planning and routine checkups. But at least 65 percent of the families are expected to turn to private care because they now have the option of selecting their own physician under a new Medicaid program.
Maryland Access for Care, financed through the federal Medicaid health insurance for the poor, matches families with private physicians. Of the 965 children receiving care at the four county clinics that are closing, 627will be redirected to physicians. The remaining 338 patients will beshifted to one of the Health Department's 10 other clinics, or the Owensville Medical Center.
The clinic in Meade Village, a 200-unit public housing community in Severn, will reopen as a drug-counseling center, Murray said. With the help of a $249,980 drug-elimination grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, county housing and health officials will run prevention and some treatment programs for alcoholics and crack cocaine abusers in the neighborhoods.
Families who used the clinic for pediatric care will be shifted to a new regional center in Odenton. All patients from the South Shore Health Center in Crownsville also will have to commute to the Odenton clinic, the flagship in the Health Department's drive for regionalizing medical care.
Anne Arundel was the first in Maryland to develop a decentralized, community-based health system. To offer low-income residents medical services close to home, the county asked neighborhoods to build and maintain their own clinics, which are staffed with public health nurses.