Public health nurses have been serving Maine people for 94 years with respect and compassion. These are the nurses who partner with communities, families and individuals to promote healthy behaviors and empower others to be responsible for making healthy lifestyle choices.
As a public health nurse, I am not representing my employer in this column. Instead, these are my observations. I have concerns because vacant public health nursing positions are going unfilled in Maine. We are being asked to cover larger and larger geographic areas and accept more responsibility as other public health nurses retire or take other jobs.
Gov. Paul LePage’s Maine Office of Policy and Management has recommended that the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee cut $500,000 from the state’s public health nursing program. A cut of that magnitude would put further strain on the quality services that public health nurses provide and would worsen the serious public employee recruitment and retention problem in all state departments.
Public health nurses are registered nurses who help families and communities in the field.
During a woman’s pregnancy, we conduct prenatal visits between doctor’s visits, checking vital signs and the baby’s fetal heart rate, and supporting the expectant parents with the latest parenting information.
We visit new families just home from the hospital, assessing the newborn’s status and growth measurements, giving breastfeeding support and answering questions. We also visit families that have babies with particular health care needs, providing developmental assessments and helping the family get further evaluation if necessary.
We can be sent to help a family for a variety of reasons. For example, if a child had an elevated level of lead in the blood, we would provide a packet of information and help identify areas of concern. If we saw chipping paint in an older home, we would identify ways to make the home more lead safe.
We work with refugee and migrant families, helping them get the health services they need.
In schools, we provide clinics on hearing, vision, immunization and other health issues.
We also help keep residents safe by participating in needs assessments at health fairs and working with other agencies. For example, if a case of tuberculosis has been diagnosed, we investigate the circumstances.
Public health nurses also are trained in emergency preparedness, so when the state of Maine experiences a disaster, we are ready to help.
Legislators are making funding decisions that affect the many services provided by public health nurses, so it’s especially important that they become informed about the many ways that we make our communities and families healthier and stronger.
We are asking people to speak to their legislators about any instances in which a public health nurse has had a positive influence in their life. Urge them to adequately fund Maine’s Public Health Nursing Program and the Home Visitation Program.
State legislators and their contact information can be found on this list: www.maine.gov/legis/house/townlist.htm
Cindy Look, of Gardiner, is a public health nurse employed for 25 years by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. She is a member and steward of the Maine State Employees Association, Local 1989, of the Service Employees International Union.