I spent some years as a public health nurse, helping people with newly diagnosed diabetes learn to administer insulin, teaching mothers how to care for their newborns, running immunization campaigns, investigating disease outbreaks, and advising communities about rabies control and tracking down animals after bites.

Studies show that public health nursing and home health care visiting are associated with reduced use of the emergency room and other expensive health services. If we want to be smart with our state budget, we will fund public health nurses fully by supporting L.D. 1108, which would return the public health nursing program in Maine to full staffing. The Health and Human Services Committee voted in favor of the bill, and it comes before the full House and Senate soon.

Two strategies have been suggested as alternatives to our public health nursing program. One would use volunteers with no medical training or community health workers trained for specific tasks. The second would outsource public health nursing to the private sector.

Neither approach would provide the level of care or flexibility to meet new problems that an adequately staffed public health nursing program can provide. There is a wealth of experience with these strategies in international settings, and they never live up to their hopes and, ultimately, increase costs.

I am now a physician and public health specialist and have spent time in countries around the world with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. During disasters and outbreaks, I have worked alongside smart and adaptive public health nurses, well-trained professionals who are the envy of any health system. The thought that Maine would sacrifice nurses to partisan fighting is too much to bear. I urge legislators to make the right decision for Maine and vote “yes” on L.D. 1108.

Sharon McDonnell


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