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Pioneer City wins health center

Pioneer City, a townhouse community in Severn that has suffered from crime and blight in recent years, soon will get its first community health center.

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens announced this month that People's Community Health Centers, a local nonprofit organization, received a $714,938 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to build the center within the Pioneer City census tract. County officials said the organization was the only group in the state to have received a grant this year.

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"We're very pleased that we were selected in a very large field of applicants around the country," said Ronna Gotthainer, the county health planner. "This is an area that has higher levels of chronic disease, substance abuse, and people there tend to not have health insurance."

But some residents in the area greeted the health center news with caution. The community has long been seeking a recreation center that would include a health component, and some worry that the grant diminishes the chances of getting a comprehensive center.

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"For 11 years, they've been asking us what we need, and then they decide to give us something without asking us," said Glenda Gathers, a longtime community activist who lives in Stillmeadows.

People's Community Health Centers applied for the grant in April in hopes of bringing basic health services and dental care to a community where many senior citizens and children lack insurance.

The nonprofit, part of the Maryland Community Health System network, will work with the county in running the center.

The organization runs two health centers in Baltimore and one in Brooklyn Heights, said Gil Shifflett, People's Community Health Center's finance director.

Shifflett said he isn't sure where the new center will be built, but he hopes it will stand at Pioneer Drive and Reece Road. By Dec. 1, the organization will have a trailer at that location to provide health services until it can find a building.

The center marks the county's latest effort to alleviate the problems afflicting Pioneer City, a once-tidy community that in recent years has succumbed to drug trade and absentee landlords.

Three years ago, county health inspectors launched a comprehensive survey of all properties on Arwell Court, Pioneer City's most dangerous street, and cited every owner who had safety code violations. The street's largest landlord at the time, Mohammad Zuberi, had more than 1,000 violations that ranged from rotting wood to plumbing and electrical problems.

After months of legal wrangling, Zuberi agreed to board up his 30 Arwell Court properties and sell them. Mark Woods, a Northern Virginia investor, bought them at auction in February.

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Residents had hoped their recreation center would sit near Arwell Court and Pioneer Drive, where the community pool was until it closed years ago. But both Gotthainer and Shifflett say their hope is to eventually build a health center that includes a recreation component, even if it's not in the community's preferred location.

"Our ultimate goal to have them both in the same area," Gotthainer said.


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