Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend criticized her Republican opponent's record on health care issues yesterday while unveiling her own proposal to modernize and expand community medical centers that provide low-cost care to the poor and uninsured.

Speaking at South Baltimore Family Health Center in Cherry Hill, Townsend said that as governor she would create a four-year, $5 million annual grant fund called the "Capital Needs Fund for Maryland's Community Health Centers."

It would provide grants to the state's 11 community health systems to renovate buildings and purchase equipment. Some of the money could also be used to create new centers in poor neighborhoods where residents do not have access to low-cost health and dental clinics.

"Health care centers do such an excellent job in reaching the people who need it," Townsend said. "It's because the health care center is in the community, and they know the community and know how to reach out."

The proposal is the last segment of her four-pronged strategy for improving health care in the state, which has an estimated 600,000 residents who are uninsured.

The other planks include proposals to offer government-funded health insurance to more people, subsidize the cost of prescription drugs for the poor and elderly, and expand public health programs such as outpatient drug treatment. To help pay for the expanded health insurance, she has said she would seek a 36-cents-a-pack increase in Maryland's cigarette tax in the second year of her term.

Townsend said her proposals offer voters a sharp distinction between her and Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., her likely Republican opponent. She said Ehrlich voted in Congress to cut funding for Medicare and against increased funding for the Women, Infants and Children program, which provides food vouchers and nutritional information to low-income families.

Campaign workers also handed out fliers printed by the state Democratic Party titled "Bob Ehrlich: The Wrong Prescription for Health Care in Maryland." The fliers accused Ehrlich, among other things, of voting to deny health coverage to legal immigrants and for another bill that would have repealed national nursing home standards.

"He's voted against many of the programs that will help people right in this community," said Townsend, speaking about economically depressed Cherry Hill.

The Ehrlich campaign said he was unavailable to comment yesterday, but asked Del. Alfred W. Redmer Jr., a Baltimore County Republican and the House minority leader, to respond to Townsend's charges.

Redmer said Townsend was getting "desperate" and misconstruing Ehrlich's voting record.

"They are taking irrelevant votes that have been cast that are going to be designed to misinterpret the stance of Bob Ehrlich," Redmer said. "But there is no question that Bob Ehrlich is an advocate for poor people having access to high-quality health care."

Redmer said Ehrlich has generally been a big supporter of community health centers

Maryland's 11 community health systems, which are funded through a combination of state, federal and private dollars, operate 45 sites across the state and serve about 100,000 patients a year.

The patients, about half of whom are uninsured, pay a small fee each visit, depending on their income.