Attorney General Janet Reno swept through Carroll yesterday, visiting the county health department and Mount Airy elementary and middle schools.
The tour was part of a White House public relations push to focus attention on President Clinton's health care reform package, which will go before Congress next year.
Other Cabinet officials were dispatched yesterday to day-care centers, hospitals and health care clinics in the greater Washington area and across the country.
During her stops in Carroll County, Ms. Reno stressed the importance of preventive and early childhood care in the development of healthy children.
"It's clear that if we come to view access to health care and prevention as critical as taking a child to kindergarten, we can make a significant difference in a child's life," Ms. Reno said.
"An investment in prenatal and early child care is one of the single best investments we can make in the future of any human being."
At the health department headquarters in Westminster, Ms. Reno met privately with Dr. Janet Neslen, the county health officer, and some nursing program managers.
She visited a Women, Infants and Children clinic, where low-income women can obtain vouchers to buy nutritious food for their children.
Ms. Reno also stopped by a prenatal-care class and talked with some of the pregnant women.
The attorney general praised the county health department's Medicaid-funded Healthy Start program, which sends community health nurses to visit pregnant women in their homes to make sure they are receiving proper prenatal care.
Ms. Reno said every dollar invested in prenatal care saves $3 down the road.
"It's sound business practice and it's good common sense," she said. "And I'm convinced that the American people are interested in what makes common sense."
During her 15 years as a prosecutor in Florida, Ms. Reno said, she became convinced that much violence can be traced to inadequate health care, whether it's a lack of prenatal care or drug treatment.
"There was incident after incident where problems had developed from lack of early childhood care," she said. "You look at a child born without prenatal care and you see a kid headed for trouble."
Ms. Reno talked about a previous visit to the Washington Hospital Center, where the medical staff treats many patients with injuries from gunshots and other street violence.
To address the problem, the hospital took its own research money and established a conflict-resolution program at neighboring schools. Ms. Reno said early reports show the program is promising.
"That's what happens when we get out of our narrow focus. Doctors talk to prosecutors, and social workers talk to police officers," Ms. Reno said. "All the disciplines work together and function as an effective unit."
After her visit to the health department, Ms. Reno traveled to Mount Airy Middle School, where she addressed the entire student body in the gym.
She touched on a wide range of topics -- her childhood in Florida, sex discrimination when she began her legal career, her sudden celebrity and the Waco tragedy involving David Koresh's Branch Davidiancult.
The subject of law enforcement also came up.
Ms. Reno said she supports passage of the president's national crime bill, which would establish "boot camps" for violent juvenile offenders, separate drug courts for defendants facing nonviolent drug charges and more prisons.
"I want to have enough prison cells to put the dangerous people away for the length of time the judge sentences them," she said.
Ms. Reno said, she supports more drug treatment facilities because prisons can't address the medical problem of addiction.
On a more personal note, Ms. Reno told the students how her mother built the family home in Florida with her own hands, because there wasn't enough money to pay someone to build it.
"She and I lived in that house until she died a year ago, and it's the house I'll go home to tomorrow night," she said. "It's a symbol to me that you can do anything you want to if you work hard enough to do it."
Displaying her sense of humor, the attorney general told the students how she knew that the glowing press she received several months ago wouldn't last.
"People have sometimes made a big fuss about me over the last 10 months," Ms. Reno said. "But I said just wait, pretty soon people will be criticizing me and poking holes in me, because I'm just me."