- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2001

DENTON, Md. — Julie Fernandez doesn't need a report to tell her that health services are limited in Caroline County, Md..
After her youngest son was born prematurely and with serious health problems, he had to spend two months in a Baltimore hospital. Miss Fernandez drove back and forth every day, 70 miles each way, to be with him.
"The care isn't here like it is on the western shore," said Miss Fernandez, who used to live on the other side of the Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis.
Limited health services are one reason why Caroline County and four others on the Eastern Shore were behind the rest of the state in the latest Maryland Kids Count Factbook, an annual report on the well-being of the state's children.
According to Kids Count, children in Maryland as a whole "are healthier, safer and more prepared for adulthood" than they were a decade ago.
Overall rates of infant mortality, child deaths, teen births, school absences and juvenile arrests dropped during the period. Rates of prenatal care, child-support payment and high school completion rose.
But stubborn poverty and rural isolation have limited improvements in Caroline, Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties, said Jennean Everett-Reynolds, the project director for Kids Count, which is funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore.
"There's a great need in Baltimore City," she said, "but we can't forget about our rural communities as well."
Among the state's 24 jurisdictions, Baltimore shared the bottom spot for childhood well-being with Wicomico County. Somerset was second-worst, with Dorchester, Worcester and Caroline counties slightly better.
The report considers childhood well-being to include health, education, economic status and safety. Each county was ranked on components within those categories.
Caroline County's infant mortality rate between 1995 and 1999 of 15 deaths per 1,000 live births was the worst in the state, and rose from almost 11 deaths per 1,000 during the previous five-year period. That rate was worse than Baltimore's.
The county's overall performance on children's issues ranked 19th.
Dorchester County ranked third worst in childhood poverty, and 21st overall. Somerset County had the worst child death rate and was second worst in low birth-weight babies and childhood poverty. It ranked 22nd overall.
Wicomico County was second worst in its juvenile arrest rate for nonviolent crimes and third worst in low birth-weight babies and child support. It ranked 23rd overall.
Worcester County had the worst rate of juvenile nonviolent crime arrests, and was second worst in teen births, early prenatal care and child abuse and neglect. It ranked 20th overall.
State Sen. Richard Colburn, a Republican representing Dorchester, Caroline, Talbot and Wicomico counties, said Marylanders from other parts of the state know the Eastern Shore as a vacation and retirement destination.
"I think the perception of a Marylander from the western shore … is that the Eastern Shore is a rather wealthy area," he said. "Nothing can be further from the truth."
Maryland's median family income in 1999 reached $53,700 — the highest in the country, according to Kids Count. By contrast, Wicomico, the wealthiest of the five low-ranking Eastern Shore counties, had a median income of just $36,900.
Somerset, the poorest, had a median income of $31,800.
Two pillars of the region's economy, fishing and agriculture, are being pinched by state regulations intended to protect the blue crab and to limit pollution from agricultural runoff.
Struggling watermen and farmers often lack health insurance for their families, she said. "If you can't pay for it, you don't get it," said Delegate Adelaide Eckardt, a psychiatric nurse.

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