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Tanya Dahlberg’s seizures started about three years ago. The convulsions are so intense, Dahlberg said, that by the time they’re over, she often has a cracked tooth.

Since her episodes start without warning, Dahlberg doesn’t feel comfortable driving. She also walked away from her 24-year career as a physical therapist. “I was very, very good at my profession,” she said. But she didn’t want to risk having a seizure while helping a patient, especially the very young or elderly who depended on her to help keep them on their feet.

Dahlberg told her story Monday at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital at an event celebrating the Lexington Park area’s designation as a Maryland Health Enterprise Zone. That status was officially announced in January.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D), who championed the project statewide, visited the hospital Monday to discuss the initiative. It’s designed to reduce health disparities based on factors such as geographic location, race and income, and to reduce health care costs and hospital admissions that could be addressed through primary care. There was standing-room only in a hospital meeting room filled with representatives from local health care agencies, government and community groups.

Brown’s office and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene have created a website dedicated to the Health Enterprise Zones. It says that, according to the United Health Foundation, Maryland ranks 35th in infectious diseases and 33rd regarding geographic health disparities, despite having the second-highest rate of primary-care providers per capita and one of the 10 lowest rates of smoking.

In St. Mary’s County, that doctor-to-patient ratio is quite different. There are about 1,723 residents for each physician here. That’s compared to 713 people per doctor across the state and about 631 nationwide, Joan Gelrud, a vice president at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital has said. In the Lexington Park-area Health Enteprise Zone, which also includes Great Mills and Park Hall, residents experience a disproportionately high number of emergency room visits, hospital officials say. And, many of these patients’ ailments, such as diabetes and hypertension, could be better treated with quality primary care.

The state has plans to grant the Greater Lexington Park Health Enterprise Zone $750,000 this year, and a total of about $3.4 million during the next four years, to address the disparities. Greater Lexington Park was among five communities granted Health Enterprise Zone status by the state. Others were in Caroline, Dorchester and Prince George’s counties, as well as Annapolis and West Baltimore. Maryland has budgeted $4 million per year for the entire four-year program.

The work in St. Mary’s County includes plans to build a health center on Great Mills Road, attract new doctors, dentists and behavioral health providers to the area and create a transportation route to take residents to and from medical appointments, grocery stores and local gyms.

Plans for a transportation route stirred a sense of anticipation Monday in Dahlberg. Rides to and from appointments would help her regain her independence.

“I hate asking people to do something for me,” she said.

“People do so much these days,” Dahlberg said, adding that just going to the store can feel like a chore. She used to walk 20 to 30 minutes to pick up things she needed, but after moving farther out in Lexington Park, she’s no longer within walking distance. She called the Health Enterprise zone “a blessing to this area.”

Brown has said that if these early efforts are successful, he plans to help establish other Health Enterprise Zones across Maryland.

People can’t continue to be left behind when it comes to health care, Brown said Monday. “I don’t believe this program alone will eliminate health disparities in our state,” he said. “But I do believe” it will go a long way toward reducing them, he said. “We still have a lot of work to do.”

nclark@somdnews.com