A Storm of Criticism

Executives from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. just shook their heads and listened as a group of angry Bowie residents last week denounced them for allowing Hurricane Floyd to cripple their company and leave thousands without electricity for days.

From Sheldon Chesis, 65, who said he couldn't get enough dry ice to keep his food from spoiling, to RoseAnn Aquilino, who said she doesn't understand why her power goes off during even small storms, many Bowie residents had questions for company officials.

More than 500,000 of BGE's 1.1 million customers lost electricity across Maryland during the Sept. 16 storm. BGE Vice President Stephen Wood told a gathering Thursday at the Bowie Public Library that this resulted in $18 million in equipment damage to the company.

"This was a very catastrophic event for our company, the biggest event [to affect the company] in 40 years," Wood said. He told about two dozen residents who turned out for the meeting that it took more than 2,000 employees and 233 utility crews from companies as far away as Ohio to help restore power to all of their customers.

During and after the storm, 67,000 BGE customers in Prince George's County were without power, in some cases for more than a week. Raymond L. Wenderlich,, manager of customer care, said the company normally distributes dry ice to customers during power failures. But this time, he said, not a lot of dry ice was available.

Bowie resident John Alcorn wasn't satisfied.

"I think you all are missing the point. What you all were missing was customer care," Alcorn said. "What we are not going to tolerate is being blown off."

Alcorn said he has a 10-month-old daughter who needs an electronic device to help her breathe. He said that when he reached a BGE representative to ask when power would be restored, he was told, "I hope you have enough sense to take the child to a relative."

Many of the residents at the meeting complained about not being able to reach BGE officials. Prince George's County Council member Audrey E. Scott (R-Bowie), who sponsored the forum, said even the county's Office of Emergency Preparedness couldn't get through.

Scott said Prince George's was the only jurisdiction served by BGE that didn't have a company liaison working directly with county officials. "I don't think they were responsive at all," Scott said.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) has ordered Maryland's Public Service Commission to investigate how well BGE and other utilities responded during Hurricane Floyd and other natural disasters. In a statement, Glendening called BGE's performance during the storm "unacceptably slow."

Susan Miller, general counsel for the Public Service Commission, said the Sept. 16 outage was the third this year. After the report of its investigation is given to Glendening in December, sanctions against BGE could be levied, she said.

Wood blamed BGE's problem on the location of the company's wires, which he said in many cases are in wooded areas. Trees and wires aren't always a good mix.

Wenderlich said that "you can't staff for a 40-year storm" but that there are no excuses for people not being able to reach a BGE employee on a phone system, even though the company's volume of calls jumped from 10,000 a day to 290,000 after the storm.

"For those who couldn't get through, I am offering no excuses," Wenderlich said. "We didn't meet our customers' expectations."

-- Hamil R. Harris


Grant for Healthier Homes

Prince George's County has been awarded a $1 million grant by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to remove lead-based paint from some of the county's low-income apartment units where children are at risk.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew M. Cuomo announced the award last week, which is part of $56 million in grants HUD is awarding to 13 states where an estimated 30,000 children are at risk of coming into contact with lead-based paint, dust or soil.

"All parents want the same thing for their children that I want for my three daughters--the opportunity to grow up healthy and to achieve their full potential," Cuomo said a statement. "These grants will protect thousands of poor children from being robbed of these opportunities by lead poisoning."

The Prince George's County Department of Housing and Community Development will manage the grant. County officials plan to use the grant money to remove lead hazards in multi-unit apartment complexes in Landover, Langley Park and Suitland.

"We have targeted three areas in the county where there is older housing and the danger of lead-based paint still exists," said Mary Lou McDonough, deputy director of the county's housing department. "We had applied for $4 million, but this will go a long way in reducing the problem."

McDonough said that although it is not certain whether the apartments they are investigating have lead, "We will perform tests and take appropriate actions."

The county has formed a partnership with Prince George's Community College, the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning and ClearCorps to remove lead from apartment complexes in the area.

Elsewhere in Maryland, the City of Baltimore has received $2.9 million to remove lead from rental properties there.

-- Hamil R. Harris


Medical Services Center Opens

A federally funded medical services nonprofit has opened a health center in central Prince George's County to serve uninsured and underinsured residents of the central county area.

Greater Baden Medical Services Inc. recently opened the Walker Mill Health Center in the Walker Mill Shopping Center at 1458 Addison Rd. S. in Capitol Heights. The new health center is one of three sites of Greater Baden Medical Services, which was founded in March 1972 to serve people who are underinsured and uninsured. The other sites are in Brandywine in southern Prince George's and Nanjemoy in Charles County.

Lou Mattingly, director of operations of Greater Baden, said the Walker Mill clinic was opened because research showed that many of the patients being seen at the Brandywine clinic were traveling from the central county area.

"Our board of directors through the strategic planning process identified that putting a new health center in that area went along with our mission," she said.

The center was presented to the public officially at an open house Oct. 22. It opened in early August and in its first month served more than 100 patients. Greater Baden's other clinics saw a total of 4,100 patients during the fiscal year ending June 30, and officials expect that number to increase by 1 1/2 times in this fiscal year because of the new clinic.

The facility, which provides primary care and has one full-time physician, serves children and adults. Several people who have been seen since it opened include homeless men, women and children from nearby shelters, Mattingly said.

Services are provided on a sliding-scale basis, and no one will be turned away because of inability to pay. The clinic expects to be reimbursed for some patients' care by the state. According to a statement released to announce the grand opening ceremony, "special populations such as the homeless are the focus of the center's outreach efforts."

The Walker Mill Health Center was established with funding from the Maryland Health Care Foundation, which gave Greater Baden a $100,000 grant. It was one of 14 projects totaling more than $1 million funded this year by the foundation, which was started two years ago by the Maryland General Assembly to support efforts that improve access to medical care for the medically underserved, the statement said.

-- Avis Thomas-Lester

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CAPTION: HYATTSVILLE: An Early Thanksgiving; Lloyd Allen gives his thanks in October to students at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville for raising $10,000 for his Episcopal school in Honduras.