How bad are conditions at the Anne Arundel County health department's Freetown Health Clinic for women? They go beyond overcrowding, beyond the limitations of an old building. The acute lack of privacy is degrading to patients.
No woman, including low-income patients receiving public health care, should have to parade down the hallway in a paper gown because there's no place to change in the gynecological exam rooms.
No man who goes with his wife for confidential family counseling should have to participate from the hallway because the counseling rooms are so tiny he can't fit inside. Health workers may be doing their best to provide good care, but even the best and most well-intentioned can't compensate for such physical shortcomings.
The fact is, the Freetown clinic was overcrowded the day it opened 12 years ago. The only negative thing we have to say about Anne Arundel County's opening of a new North County women's health clinic today is: It shouldn't have taken this long.
The Freetown clinic and the Friendship Area Health Center on Camp Meade Road are merging into the new North County Health Services Center at newly renovated offices on Aquahart Road, behind Harundale Mall. The most important change for patients won't be the nice new furnishings; it will be privacy.
Two other important improvements are a children's dental health clinic (the only other one in Anne Arundel County is in Annapolis) and a permanent home for the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
Now that North County has a full, up-to-date complement of health services (there are also general community health clinics in Brooklyn Park and Glen Burnie), the county should give some thought to South County.
A second women's clinic at the health department's Annapolis headquarters is supposed to serve that region but is not the most convenient location for South County women, especially because many who use these services do not have cars. None of the five community health clinics is located in South County.
Everyone knows funds are tight; that's partly why it has taken so long to replace the Freetown clinic.
But at least the county should be giving serious thought to ways of making basic health care accessible to its neediest families.