Friday, September 19, 2008

Washington County Update

Friday September 12th Representative Anne Perry convened a meeting in Machias to discuss health disparity issues faced in Washington County, along with Commissioner of Maine DHHS Brenda Harvey, Senator Kevin Raye, Representative Donald Soctomah, and a number of others. Lisa Sockabasin, the Director of Minority Health, and I drove together to the meeting. About 25 people attended, including many health and social service providers and representatives from the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development and Maine Department of Labor.

I presented the health profile data that Maine CDC staff have been working hard helping me compile. The data are found in four documents:

“Public Health Data Comparison Tables, Washington County” is a Health District Profile with a column for Washington County that provides comparisons between Washington County, other regions of the state, the state as a whole, and the nation;

“Washington County Data” is a compilation of Washington County data that includes some trend data;

“Community Health Status Report, Washington County” is a report comparing Washington County health data to peer counties around the country; and

“Washington County Highlights of the Health Profile” is a summary of some highlights of the above three documents.

These documents can be found on our new Public Health Data Reports website (, under the Regional and Local Reports section or directly at

The gathered group then shared observations and ideas. What was most impressive to me was the high level of passion, energy, and thoughtful ideas in the room. From ideas related to economic development, educational opportunities, improving prevention, screening, and treatment of health issues, to infrastructure improvements (yes, the poor condition of Route 1 and lack of internet and cell phone coverage were mentioned several times), to environmental concerns were discussed. Disparities among the poor and minority communities were also recognized.

However, although “hopelessness” and “poverty” were the two most common words I heard during the two hour meeting, I left with a strong sense of optimism. First, there was the recent news of the US DHHS’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) award to Washington County’s Community Caring Collaborative of a ~$900,000 per year 5-year grant to help expand prevention programs for underserved communities in Washington County, including the Passamaquoddy tribal members. Marjorie Withers from the Collaborative was at the meeting and her excitement about the impact this grant may have was quite palpable. Cheryl DiCara, Valerie Ricker, Lisa Sockabasin and others from the Maine CDC who assisted on this grant were also bursting with excitement the preceding days. It also looks like Maine CDC may be able to fund a prevention specialist using Fund for a Healthy Maine dollars for the Passamaquoddy Tribe in the coming weeks. And, we are hopeful to be able to soon hire a Maine CDC Public Health District Liaison for the Downeast District, and perhaps locate the person in Machias.

Second, the attendees agreed to use the Washington County: One Community initiative as a central point of contact for ongoing efforts. Eleody Libby, their Executive Director and Healthy Maine Partnership Director, is a well known public health professional and has been very involved with statewide public health activities. Representatives from the Passamaquoddy Tribe were present and also invited to join the One Community initiative.

This effort will clearly take the energy and dedication of many to successfully address the many health-related challenges in Washington County. However, I left with a sense of hope, and was honored to be invited to join them in the journey.

On the way home we stopped to buy a 10-pound box of wild fresh blueberries that now sits in my freezer with containers of them in the refrigerator. It’s wonderful to have a daily healthy reminder of the great resources in Washington County!

Dora Anne Mills, MD, MPH

Washington County Health Profile Documents: