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Health-center proposal may be revived


C County officials have promised Taneytown that family planning services will not not be a part of a proposed community health center, and the City Council is poised to reverse itself and approve the $100,000 state grant that it turned down a month ago.

"This brings us back to the very beginning, back where we were when we asked if the health center could be provided without the family planning component," said Councilman Henry C. Heine Jr., one of three council members who voted against the state grant a month ago because he feared abortion counseling would be included among the family planning services.

The irony is that health officials say they never intended to provide family planning services in the health center proposed for a vacant building in Taneytown's downtown.

"To eliminate the family planning was not too difficult because we didn't plan to do it anyway," said Dr. Janet W. Neslen, the county's health officer.

In a May 30 letter to Mr. Heine, Jolen Sullivan, the county's director of citizen services, told him that family planning would not be provided in the vacant bank building, now or in the future.

"The human services coalition feels the needs of the children and their families are great," wrote Ms. Sullivan.

But, as Dr. Neslen and she indicated to the council before its May 8 vote against the center, Ms. Sullivan wrote, "Should the citizens feel there is a need for family planning services, the health department will proceed to investigate a location elsewhere."

One of the center's greatest proponents was Gerald Fuss, pastor of Emmanuel Baust United Church of Christ and president of Caring and Sharing Ministries, a group of local religious leaders.

Although he was pleased to hear that the City Council has regarded Ms. Sullivan's letter as a compromise, he was disappointed that any compromise had to be fashioned. "I would have been glad to see the whole proposal go through," Mr. Fuss said. "But this sounds like a compromise so that some of the services can be offered to the community. I was concerned that people had taken a significant stance and had turned it into a moral issue, and I'm afraid it looks like the county is caving in. . . .

"The issue was blown out of proportion. It should never have been about abortion in the first place," he said.

State and county health officials were baffled by last month's City Council vote, because their proposal to bring to Taneytown an array of services, from immunizations to addiction treatments, did not include plans to provide family planning counseling.

Health and social services officials said their proposal then included a provision for adding a family planning clinic at the center if a demand for such services existed.

Dr. Neslen said yesterday that under state and federal law, the health department must offer "options counseling" to any woman who seeks it.

She said those services are now offered at the Health Department's headquarters in Westminster.

The health department's family planning services include the dispensing of information on all aspects of pregnancy.

At a nonvoting work session tonight, the council is expected to discuss whether to bring the issue up for reconsideration.

To Mayor W. Robert Flickinger -- who as a councilman last month was one of two who voted for the health center -- the services are vitally needed in Taneytown, a city in which 40 percent of its 4,500 citizens live at or below the poverty line.

"We have these children who need help in the world, and we should take care of them," he said.

Even if the council decides to vote for the health center, it won't be coming to town soon. The earliest renovations would have begun at the vacant Taneytown Bank and Trust Co. building was in the fall, and now, the center's opening could be delayed for a year or more, Ms. Sullivan said yesterday.

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