Children's welfare tops state's health priorities

Officials list problems, strategies to fix them

October 19, 2001|By Diana Sugg | Diana Sugg,SUN STAFF

In a sweeping plan released yesterday, state health officials outlined Maryland's top health problems and strategies to fix them. Children's health emerged as the No. 1 priority, followed by substance abuse, cancer and access to health care.

Improving the public health infrastructure to deal with threats like bioterrorism also made the list of top 10 priorities. According to the plan, many public health workers around the state don't have access to the state health department's secure computer network to get timely, essential information, and data systems need to be integrated and updated.

Two years in the making, the 327-page report is a road map for improving the state's health over the next decade. It is Maryland's response to a federal project, Healthy People, that outlines the nation's key health goals every 10 years.

In public health, in addition to tapping into technology to set up a better, integrated data system, the plan calls for steps to ensure an adequate public health work force.

In children's health, looking at issues like asthma, lead poisoning and nutrition, the report outlines strategies that include educating physicians about asthma, improving lead screening and collaborating with schools to develop more well-balanced meals.

Maryland's Health Improvement Plan, developed by public health leaders, policy-makers and others, didn't offer any surprises. Tobacco use and cancer, in which the state has posted high rates, are listed as priorities. So are injury and violence, mental health, oral health and heart disease. But officials at the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene say the plan will help set agendas and budgets.

"This puts it all together. This will act as a catalyst," said Jeanette Jenkins, director of the office of health policy.

No new money is being set aside. But state officials say some of the proposals don't cost money, others are already funded, and others will get help from businesses and nonprofit groups.

In addition to the state strategy, each county and Baltimore put together a plan tailored to its specific needs.

Among other items, Howard County plans to target colon cancer, asthma and diabetes. Anne Arundel County planners said they want to expand a program in which physicians, nurse practitioners and other providers give free or low-cost care to uninsured people. In Baltimore, officials want to expand dental services and increase the number of school-based health centers.

One of Baltimore County's goals is to ensure that people have transportation to medical appointments. In Carroll County, where statistics show use of heroin, marijuana and cocaine are skyrocketing, officials plan to boost by 20 percent the number of people getting drug treatment.

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