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The state health department is devoting $16 million over the next four years to reduce health disparities in five communities, designated Health Enterprise zones.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) and Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, announced Thursday that five entities will get state assistance to establish patient-centered medical homes — low-cost medical practices focused on preventative care — hire additional personnel and transport needy patients to health care facilities.

“As a state, we have the second-highest number of primary-care providers on a per capita basis and some of the nation’s best hospitals,” Brown said. “Yet, we rank 35th when it comes to geographic health disparities, and there are still communities in our state where people don’t have access to primary care. We need a new approach, and I think that’s what today’s announcement reflects.”

The zones were chosen on a competitive basis and will have access to state income tax credits, hiring tax credits, loan repayment assistance, capital grant support and additional grant funding.

In Capitol Heights, the Prince George’s County Health Department will establish five patient-centered medical homes, expected to serve a minimum of 10,000 residents.

In Annapolis, the Anne Arundel Health System is putting a patient-centered medical home in a senior housing complex in an attempt to cut down on emergency room visits, 911 calls for medical attention and hospital readmissions.

Bon Secours Baltimore Health System is establishing the West Baltimore Primary Care Access Collaborative and using the state funding to help recruit 18 primary care professionals and put community health workers in underserved areas.

St. Mary’s MedStar Hospital in Leonardtown plans to establish a community health care center in Lexington Park, hire five primary care physicians and develop a health care transportation route for residents in rural areas with little access to health care.

In Dorchester and Caroline counties, the Dorchester County Health Department plans to create a mobile mental health crisis team to target individuals who visit hospital emergency rooms due to behavioral health issues.

The state health department is continuing to work with other entities in communities across the state to create new Health Enterprise zones. Nineteen coalitions have submitted proposals for targeted investments in underserved communities.

The Health Enterprise Zone program was established in April 2012 with the Maryland Health Improvement and Disparities Reduction Act and is modeled on Economic Enterprise zones.

“The real exciting news will be when we come back in short order with the results of the Health Enterprise zones,” Brown said.

hnunn@gazette.net