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Articles by Sandra Olivetti Martin

Killing AA Co's polystyrene ban puts us there

    Here in Chesapeake Country, we spend a lot of time living in the past.
    We celebrate our heritage not just back to 1634, when Lord Baltimore’s colonists sailed in to stay, but all the way back to native times. We love our historic buildings, tracing many back to those heroic days of Independence we celebrate this week. We retrace historic footsteps along the Capt. John Smith and Star-Spangled Banner trails.
    We say we try to preserve what’s best about our past as the foundation on which we build our future.
    We’re even acknowledging the sins of our past. Grappling with the monumental wrong with our slave-holding heritage, we’ve erected new monuments of reconciliation — the Alex Haley Passage — and recognition — the Thurgood Marshall statuary grouping.
    We say we reckon with the mistakes of our past so we can do better in the future.
    So in many ways we’re reckoning with the past rather than living there.
    This week, however, Anne Arundel County pretended that it’s cheaper to live in the past than reckon with the future. County Executive Steve Schuh joined the Anne Arundel County School Board in voting for our right to bury ourselves in an avalanche of polystyrene. That’s the ubiquitous and virtually indestructible synthetic hydrocarbon polymer we love to serve our food and drink in.
    Yuck!
    It’s bad enough that polystyrene makes an unappetizing plate and cup. It’s way worse that the brittle stuff is virtually indestructible except by fire. It breaks down, yes, but into ever-smaller particles that are now omnipresent in human fatty tissue and high-ranking as litter in oceans and on beaches.
    Our counties don’t recycle polystyrene. In other words, almost every bit of it is trash. Yet billions of pounds are produced every year — and that’s in America alone.
    So the Anne Arundel County Council had come down on the right side of environmental history when it banned polystyrene earlier this month. Our Council of seven pretty average Americans — men not too rich or too poor, mostly not flaming liberals or die-hard conservatives — decided by a vote of four to three that we’d contributed enough to the mountains of eternal waste under which we’re burying our beautiful Maryland.
    They voted to ban the use of polystyrene as food containers starting in 2020, giving restaurants and quick stops plenty of time to use up their stock.
    In doing so, they overruled the penny-wise-pound-foolish opposition of business and industry lobbyists, and even our own public schools, who’d argued that they just couldn’t afford to do the right thing.
    Apparently our education leaders don’t trust the students in their charge to be smart or inventive enough to devise a better cup or carry-out container.
    Perhaps the four councilmen on the right side of history had compared, to our disadvantage, our legacy of non-biodegradable white foam to the Indians’ oyster shell middens. Perhaps they were feeling shock waves from China, which has had enough at any price of being the world’s dump. Perhaps they just thought we, who are so proud of our past, can do better by our future than bury it under trash.
    The District of Columbia already made that move in 2015. Baltimore followed this year. Annapolis is considering the same resolution. Juisdictions like those, including many in California, are recognizing that we undercut our future by living short-term on the cheap.
    Now Steve Schuh — a county executive who prides himself on looking out for Anne Arundel’s future — has made just that cut. Instead of leading us into a sustainable future, he has pretended we can still live in a heedless past.
    In terms of managing the waste we make, we’re getting more leadership from Ronald McDonald. ­McDonald’s, the world’s largest fast food chain, will end its use of polystyrene by the end of this year — globally.
    Here at home, maybe you can get your own favorite restaurants to do the same.
    Maybe you can convince Mr. Schuh to move Anne Arundel County from the past into the future. If not, you can send him your message on November 6.


Sandra Olivetti Martin, Editor and publisher
email [email protected], www.sandraolivettimartin.com

As the reasons for marrying change, we just keep doing it

“You had to back then.”

That’s how Bill Burton — the esteemed outdoor writer who retired from Bay Weekly 16 years after retiring from a 30-plus-year career at the Baltimore Evening Sun — answered my inquiry about his many marriages. He allowed the legend of five — culminated by his long and happy marriage to Lois Burton — to stand. In fact it was only three, a truth outed by longtime friend Alan Doelph, appreciating Burton’s life after his death at 82 on August 10, 2009.

Our culture of marriage has changed since Burton’s time. The old reasons that upheld the institution over the ages — intimacy, sex and procreation — no longer apply with the same force. Yet marriage not only survives. It thrives. Nowadays people typically marry because they want to.

Just why is that?

That’s a tantalizing question in this favorite month of brides and grooms, one I married in once myself. All these years later, it’s the month I’ve sought ordination from the Universal Life Church so that I can officiate at my first wedding, the September union of Bay Weekly’s once-upon-a-time junior reporter Ariel Brumbaugh and Patrick Beall. It seems that newspaper editors share that authority with ships’ captains, at least for people who’ve been under their command. 

Bay Weekly’s annual Wedding Guide further sharpens my curiosity. In these pages, you’ll join me in sharing the wedding memories — and charming photos — of a couple of dozen Chesapeake Country couples who accepted our invitation to join us in this week’s paper. Their wedding dates range over 64 years, from 1954 to 2018, and while each memory is different, they all revolve around the theme of love.

Even in the 21st century, when love and marriage are no longer harnessed together like the horse and carriage of the 1955 song, love still runs the show.

That wasn’t always the case. Love of the romantic sort is a relatively recent condition for marriage. Over the millennia, lust has partnered with survival, standing, security, wealth, power and progeny in motivating marriage. But here in America, the general prosperity following World War II empowered love to make many a marriage. 

“I knew the moment I saw Sheila I wanted to marry her,” John Dorr writes of the conclusion of the couple’s long engagement, their marriage in 1959. She, granddaughter Audrey Broomfield tells us, felt the same way. 

Security, too, remains a factor that leads many a couple (even cohabiting couples) to marriage. That was an intangible factor in my eventual marriage (in May, not June) to husband Bill Lambrecht — as it was in Glenda Flores’ August 2017 marriage to Wilmer.

“I remember taking my father’s arm and taking the first steps into the church feeling so secure that at the end of the path I was going to be truly happy,” she wrote. 

We also marry for the fun of it. Twenty-first century weddings give the marrying couple what’s likely to be the biggest party of their lives.

Sixty-four years ago, Phyllis and William Conrad were content with tuna fish sandwiches at a hotel bar on the one night they had together before he returned to his assignment at the Army Security Agency School in Massachusetts and she to her job in the Pentagon.

Nowadays the wedding gives girls their chance to be princesses and guys princes — or at least cool and powerful dudes. And not only for a day, as engagement, bachelor, bachelorette and after parties, plus showers, stretch the celebration into many days. As you’ll see in our wedding directory, modern brides and grooms can get just about anything they want. Marriage is, as the convention goes, the time to make dreams come true.

As we cheer on each couple old or new, we’re hoping in our heart of hearts that another dream comes true for them. We hope that by marrying, each couple forms a more perfect union.

In their place of origin, the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, here’s how those words continue: to form a more perfect union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.

Not a bad plan for a nation — or for a marriage, is it?

 

Sandra Olivetti Martin

Editor and publisher

email [email protected], www.sandraolivettimartin.com

Rich or poor, Owensville ­Primary Care turns no one away

Over $10,000. That’s what the average American spent for health care in 2016, and up is where that number is heading.
     “My wife’s health insurance jumped 38.9 percent,” laments a friend recently retired. “My pension is disappearing.”
     Across the age spectrum, you hear endless variationa of the same story.
Last year, 11.9 percent of Anne Arundel County residents couldn’t afford to see a doctor, according to the county’s Report Card of Community Health Indicators. Seventeen percent didn’t have a primary care physician.
     In a culture where health and wealth are inextricably linked, Owensville Primary Care is a haven. It welcomes all with these words: This Health Center serves all patients regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.
     It is an oddly placed haven.
     If you wanted to show off southern Anne Arundel County’s pastoral ideal, you couldn’t do better than take a drive down Owensville Road, the east-west link between Rt. 2 and Galesville. Amid imposing white homes set back on yards rolling into farm fields, the modernistic stucco building might, if noticed, raise a question. 
     Its placement tells a truer story of Southern Maryland life than the scenery. It’s a story in many ways little changed since Owensville Primary Care was founded in 1974 to, in CEO Sylvia Jennings’ words, “address the needs of a very low-income, rural, minority population that did not have access to health care.”
     Over four decades, Jennings has seen need persist and — for many of those years — overseen Owensville Primary Care’s ability to deliver care regardless of race, age or income.
      “We pledge to provide quality health care to our entire, diverse community at a responsible cost,” Jennings says. “That’s our mission.”
     Since the Affordable Care Act was passed, that pledge has included helping people, patients or not, find qualified health care programs. Nowadays, people losing their subsidies are welcome for advice and alternatives.
 
A Melting Pot
     In the utilitarian waiting room, you find yourself in a microcosm of the larger Southern Anne Arundel County community, where homes — and with them wealth — run the full range from mansions to shanties. Here, your neighbors — black and white, young and old, more and less affluent — visit as they wait. You might find — as I did on this day — a kid sucking a lollipop. Two elderly women, black and white. A tattooed hipster with an ear gauge in his lobe. A workingman in an Orioles cap. Yourself.

Owensville Primary Care outgoing CEO Sylvia Jennings, retiring after more than 20 years.

       Owensville Primary Care has become, over the years, an American melting pot. 
     “I came in one morning to find a Jaguar in the parking lot next to a jalopy,” says Jennings, the white-topped dynamo who for two decades has been CEO of this federally qualified Community Health Center, one of 16 in Maryland and some 1,400 nationwide.
      The numbers support the impression of diversity. Of October’s 1,156 patient visits, 38 percent were paid by commercial insurance, 32 percent by Medicare and 28 percent by Medicaid, with two percent self-paid.
 
Walking Into a Nightmare
       Jennings, 82 and days from retirement, works behind the scenes, in an office stocked with tall jars of Hershey’s Kisses. Jolly, direct and demanding, she does not want a visit to her sanctum to feel like “a walk down the hall to the principal.”
      For the office she is now dismantling has been the scene of many hard decisions.
      “I walked into a nightmare,” Jennings recalls.
      In 1981, the well-intentioned, six-year-old South County Family Health had descended into bankruptcy. With $1.5 million owed, court administrators threatened to “nail doors shut and walk away,” Jennings remembers. That’s when she joined the board, deputized by her boss, Virginia Clagett, then South County’s councilwoman.
      Paying off that debt took eight years.
      A second round of troubles in the mid 1990s brought Jennings back on the board to captain “a sinking ship.” First she laughed at entreaties; finally she accepted. That was 1997. She spent the next two years cleaning up the mess.
 
The Team
      Jennings has been the force that kept Owensville Primary Care on track.
      But hers is not the face you’re likely to know if you happen to be one of its 3,400 patients, from birth to geriatrics. 
      First you meet the reception crew, who, Jennings says and experience proves, are “welcoming and treat you not as a stranger but as a friend.” 

photo by Wayne Bierbaum

Back, doctors Thomas Sheesley, Jonathan Hennessee and Wayne Bierbaum. Front, nurse practitioner Nancy Bryan, behavioral health director Dr. Jana Raup and physicians assistant Ann Hendon.

photo by Wayne Bierbaum

Rebecca Woolwine, Judy Bracken, Amber Snay and Billie Aisquith in back row. Keri Mahan and Brittany Galloway, seated.

      Many, like office manager Billie Aisquith, have been here as long as Jennings. Increasingly, they are “cross-trained in multiple functions,” like Vickie Payne, who is also a fire department EMT just certified as a medical assistant through Anne Arundel Community College’s online program.
       “When they expand their skills, they expand their incomes,” Jennings says.
       Next, you enter into the hands of nurses — among them nurse supervisor Vanessa Greenwell, Owensville Primary’s longest serving staffer at over 30 years — who’ll take your weight and height, blood pressure, temperature and blood oxygen readings.
       They turn you over to health care providers, who range from doctors to nurse practitioner Nancy Bryan, retired from the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps, to physician assistant Ann Hendon.
       At 28 years in, chief medical officer Wayne Bierbaum calls his egalitarian work at Owensville Primary “what I’ve wanted to do since I decided to go into medicine: helping people manage in difficult circumstances.”
       Doctors Jonathan Hennessee and Thomas Sheesley are National Health Service Corps Scholars, who repay their medical education by working in communities with limited access to care, in their cases for a term of five years.
      Behavioral Health Director Jana Raup or Licensed Clinical Social Worker Jen Thornton offer counseling and therapy.
 
Right People for the Job
       From the bottom up and top down, salaries are a priority with Jennings, who brings her medical experience as a nurse along with administrative experience alongside a state legislator.
      “I really focused on getting people a decent wage,” she said. “Even then, $7 an hour for nurses was ridiculous.”
        “The money wasn’t there so it was a long process,” says Sharon Widemann, Jennings’ long-time colleague and now successor as CEO.
      Nowadays, Jennings calls “our salaries very competitive,” good enough to draw expertise from outside South County. 
       “Young physicians fresh out of school are paid a very good entry-level wage that appreciates the fact that family-care physicians are difficult to recruit,” she notes. 
      For five years, Jennings and Widemann, who came on in 1994 as an accountant, “got our hands dirty with work to make sure we had the right hiring.”
        Computerization brought the next challenge. 
      “When IT hit us all with electronic records, we were able to draw the best staff among community health centers, who are doing wonders for our record keeping,” Widemann says.
 
Finding Wherewithal
      Every step took money. 
      Community health centers are backed by tax dollars. Owensville Primary Care has a $4 million budget, with federal funding of about $1.5 million, supplemented by fees for service, donations from citizens and small government grants for targeted programs.
       Federal and private funding supported the construction of the building back in 1976, enabling Owensville Primary to move out of the old Owensville primary school. The building was county property until 2002, when it was surplussed to Owensville Primary. That same year, a state grant of $200,000 and a loan from the county paid for renovation. Later grants paid for better parking. This year, the behavioral health center moved into its own remodeled space, replacing the old post office that shared space with Owensville Primary.
      Grants enabled growth in services. In 2013 federal monies brought on behavioral health case managers, certified application counselors for Affordable Care and expanded Medicare, plus two more physicians. 
      A brand-new grant supports response to the opioid addiction crisis with mental health, public awareness and Narcan training.
      From Jennings’ years with Clagett as both councilwoman and delegate, she understood the levers of government. 
     “She has kept us in the minds of politicians who help our cause,” says chief medical officer Wayne Bierbaum.
      Jennings retires with Owensville Primary Care “in the black.” But not without a touch of uncertainty. Federal funding for community health centers expired September 30, and Congress has yet to reauthorize it.
 
‘A’ For Accountabiliity
     Recovery from a troubled past has made accountability part of each day’s work.
     “We hold ourselves accountable with committees for quality care, insurance and improvement,” Widemann says. “Once a month, a group of clinical and administrative staff review incidents and look at how our patients are doing. If one provider is doing a great job, we see how to share those best practices.”
     Patients have two ways to rate their satisfactions, and a sign on the reception desk invites complaints if you’ve waited more than 20 minutes to be seen. Quality measures are posted on the front door and the website.
      Accountability is one of the hallmarks of Jennings’ tenure, according to Bierbaum who has worked beside her the whole time.
     “Our goals have been continually strengthened through her vision of what we should become, so that everyone knows that we stand for service delivered with compassion, accountability and professionalism, always trying to do better in our mission,” he says.
     On January 2, Jennings passed on title and responsibility to Widemann. She leaves with satisfaction, relief and confidence, in a transition that, she promises, “will be seamless.” Preparing Widemann to continue the mission has been Jennings’ final achievement. 
     That, and revisiting 22 years of history, paper, electronic and human. 
     Amid the sorting, preserving and trashing, there was reflecting.
     Jennings already had reached retirement age when she was persuaded to come to the rescue of Owensville Primary Care.
     “I thought I’d do it a couple years and get it straightened out,” she recalls. 
      But day after day, year after year, she returned.
      “What I do every day of my life is so satisfying that it has allowed me to work till 82,” she says.
 

Outgoing CEO Sylvia Jennings, left, and her successor, Sharon Widemann.

      Now, 20 years in, she allows herself to be “very personally pleased with myself for the job I have done here. Some people will call me smug, but you have to have some personal reward. I’m not talking about money but about feeling I have contributed something to my neighbors and friends.”
      Widemann’s mission is continuing a success she helped create.
     “We have a very fully equipped and functioning federal community health center, a strong executive staff, strong providers and a growing behavioral health component,” the new CEO says.
      Her plan is to reach into the community to bring affordable health care to people still unserved. Growing the behavioral health unit is a particular goal.
      She steps comfortably into Jennings’ big shoes.
     “We’re not a one-woman show anymore,” Widemann says. “We’re a team effort. Plus, I know where Sylvia lives.”

My Favorite Stories of 2017

Together, we read a lot of stories over the course of a year. Many of them give you a moment’s insight or delight. Others tell you just what you need to know. Some stay in your mind, even after all those words have come between you and them all that time ago. So I can still recount stories we ran four, 14 or 24 years ago.
    Before I close the book on 2017 (yes, I really do have a large, heavy book labeled “2017 • Vol. XXV,” I like to reflect on what we’ve done in the 52 issues of our 25th volume.
    Following the pattern of this Best of the Bay edition, I’m awarding them categorical bests.


Best Bay Weekly Cover of 2016

Get Ready for the Great American Eclipse: Aug. 17