Suggestions for better women's health Schaefer panel makes proposals

November 10, 1993|By Marina Sarris and Rafael Alvarez | Marina Sarris and Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writers

A state commission on women's health called on the governor last night to put health clinics in middle and high schools and make it easier for older women to receive cancer tests.

The temporary commission, which Gov. William Donald Schaefer appointed earlier this year, made more than a dozen suggestions.

At the group's presentation during a women's health symposium at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, the governor said he would ask the Board of Public Works for $50,000 seed money to "get this off the ground."

He also announced that he intends to establish an Office on Women's Health in the state Health Department, a "peer leadership program" to encourage self-esteem among middle school girls and a standing commission on women's health to replace the temporary group.

Although lacking price tags and details, the commission's recommendations include some that are bound to be both expensive and controversial.

For instance, the 26-member panel wants to set up public-school clinics that would provide health services to girls, "including prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases."

Dr. Susan Guarnieri, a physician who chairs the panel, said it did not decide whether those services should involve education about sexual abstinence, information about birth control or distribution of contraceptives.

Those details could be worked out later, she said, if the governor accepts recommendations for a permanent women's health commission and a separate office in the health department.

In his address to the Notre Dame symposium, Mr. Schaefer said he would do both. In an interview before the event, he said the suggestions were "practical . . . all of them can be done."

The governor said he had charged the commission members with developing "practical recommendations . . . I told them: 'Don't give me a bunch of things I can't do, give me something we can do right now.'"

The panel's goal, said Dr. Guarnieri, was to come up with ideas to educate women about medical tests and breakthroughs that could save lives. "The issue is that women have unique health problems, and they're important in this society. . . . We want them to know what the good news is about their health," she said.

Health Secretary Nelson J. Sabatini said the proposed clinics might not be needed in affluent neighborhoods. "I think you have to look at putting clinics in those schools that make sense -- schools where there's no other source of medical care," he said.

The proposed clinics would also promote good nutrition and teach girls how to examine their breasts for potentially cancerous lumps.

Baltimore has several high school clinics that offer contraceptives. Dr. Guarnieri said she did not know about others elsewhere in the state.

The commission urged a panel charged with developing a basic health insurance package to include benefits for gynecological exams, abortions, prenatal care, mammograms, osteoporosis treatment, tests for cancers of the reproductive system and tests for sexually transmitted diseases.

It recommended the same package for poor Marylanders who receive state medical assistance.

Other proposals include:

* Improving access to mammograms and Pap smears.

* Holding stop-smoking classes for teen-age girls.

* Building self-esteem in middle-school girls and promoting healthy adolescent life-styles.

* Distributing information about osteoporosis and hormone replacement therapy.

* Raising awareness of women's mental health.

* Designating a Women's Health Week, organizing an annual convention and listing resources in a brochure.

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