Dr. Elders praises Paquin School's approach Surgeon general promises to return

November 17, 1993|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,Staff Writer

Three months into her tenure as America's physician, Surgeon General M. Joycelyn Elders said she found in Baltimore the future of health care for the nation's exploding population of teen-age mothers.

During a brisk tour yesterday of the Laurence Paquin School, Dr. Elders told an admiring audience of students and staff that they should "pat themselves on the back" for doing the right thing about a problem that ranks highest on her agenda.

She said the school, which educates about 300 new and expectant mothers in the sixth through 12th grades, teaches responsibility while keeping a firm grasp on the inescapable realities of inner-city life.

Dr. Elders, former director of the Arkansas Health Department, said she agrees that teen-agers should abstain from sex but that too many people do nothing but wring their hands and moralize in the face of adolescents who don't.

"If you can't be abstinent, we want you to be responsible," she said during an address to about 60 people in the school auditorium. "If you can't be responsible and you get pregnant, we don't want you to be ignorant.

"We want you to stay in school so you can be healthy and educated and grow for the future."

The physician, who wore the black-and-gold uniform of the U.S. Public Health Service, gushed over a well-equipped "entrepreneur program" that teaches girls to manufacture clothes and run their own business. There, she accepted a gift of an elegant robe made by students.

And she beamed as two students awarded her a souvenir Paquin T-shirt and asked her to be the keynote speaker at the June 1994 graduation. She said yes.

Dr. Elders spent the most time visiting Paquin's health center, one of nine school-based clinics in the city that provides primary health care along with family planning services. Paquin drew national attention last year when City Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson announced that Paquin would be the first school to offer Norplant -- an implantable contraceptive -- to its students.

But Dr. Beilenson said the clinic spends only 20 percent of its time on family planning. The remainder is devoted to a broad array of services such as mental health and substance abuse counseling and the treatment of such illnesses as asthma and diabetes.

In September, the University of Maryland Medical Center took over operation of the clinic from the city health department. The university has also assumed the cost -- $140,000 annually -- freeing the city to make plans to open a clinic in another school.

Prior to her confirmation in September, Dr. Elders drew criticism from conservatives who highlighted her outspoken support for abortion rights and contraceptives for teens. "I feel all forms of contraception should be available," she said. "This community ought to be applauded."

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