In response to the April 14 article “Bipartisan bill requires state hire at least 50 public nurses” (Page B1): I am writing to raise my voice in support of properly staffing Maine’s public health nursing program.

As coordinator of Maine’s tuberculosis control program from 2003 to 2008, I worked closely with our state’s public health nurses to manage TB outbreaks and to prevent new outbreaks from occurring. Since both the TB program and the public health nursing program are within the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, I was surprised to read that the Maine CDC declined to support L.D. 1108, the pending bill to reinstate 24 “frozen” nursing positions.

The results of the Department of Health and Human Services’ “streamlining” of public health services over the past several years include a decline in immunization rates and a rise in vaccine-preventable illness, as well as rising TB case rates and alarming increases in opioid-related deaths and infant mortality. Since immunization rates and disease case rates are measures by which communities assess the effectiveness of each state’s public health department, why would our state public health program turn away the very resources that it needs to reverse these trends?

Public health program planners understand that disease flourishes where poverty and social isolation wear people down; where housing and nutrition are poor; where access to health care is limited, either by money or geography. To reverse our state’s worrisome public health trends, we need to go where the people are. We need to put boots on the ground.

Public health nurses are skilled in community work, and they are trained and ready to respond to disease outbreaks and other public health emergencies. I hope that this bill passes and that the Maine CDC reinstates these 24 nurses and then supports their work. Our lives may depend on it.

Suzanne Gunston, R.N., MPH