ANNAPOLIS – The Office of Women’s Health is soon to be a reality with a $300,000 appropriation included in Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s supplemental budget.
The office, which will receive the money in July, will be under the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. It will provide information about women’s health issues, such as osteoporosis, heart disease and cancer. The Women’s Health Promotion Council, another state office, is working with the department to develop the programs and educational tools.
“(The new office) will be more of a liaison and a collection of data and information dissemination,” said Arlene Stephenson, deputy secretary at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The budget includes funding for three staff members, communications, grants, supplies and equipment, said Mae Rupert, also with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Women legislators introduced two identical bills to create the office this session of the Maryland General Assembly, but both died before the session ended April 9.
“We felt it was a victory that the governor was very supportive,” said sponsor Delegate Ann Marie Doory, D-Baltimore, newly elected president of the Women Legislators of Maryland. “Not with just the issue of making sure women’s health was addressed, but certainly with the additional funding that will help provide the emphasis to promote and study women’s issues more closely.”
Some legislators opposed the bill saying that if they created the office they would have to create others for individual minority groups, too.
Maryland ranked 25th – in the middle – on a national report card ranking the status of women’s health issues released last year by the National Women’s Law Center.
While Stephenson said the department gears many programs toward women and their families, they are all separate.
“This is a way for us to bring everything that we’re doing in separate, distinct programs that are often disease-oriented, together,” Stephenson said. “We can look at the woman as a whole and not look at the woman as an individual with breast cancer or an individual with a substance abuse problem.”
The office will provide information for women of all ages, addressing issues such as obstetrics and gynecology, substance abuse, obesity, eating disorders and menopause and post-menopause.
“I think that (the office) is going to coordinate a lot of services for women,” said Joy Newton, executive director of Women in Government, in the District of Columbia. “I think women have been unrecognized in their needs in the diseases and afflictions that they have. Currently, women have to go to a variety of sources. By having a centralized office there now will be a coordination of services.”