Rockland residents invited to celebrate health care pioneer

Posted June 09, 2010, at 11:36 a.m.

You would have to be my generation or older to remember the days when doctors, dentists, nurses, and optometrists actually came into the schools and performed physicals.

Back then, everybody got checked out by the local docs once a year to make sure we could see, hear and breathe properly, and that our heads and bodies were clean and free of disease. The exam cost nothing, and everyone participated.

I had completely forgotten about that early, community, public health effort, until I spoke with Bethany Thivierge, a member of the board of Rockland District Nursing Association and its Friends committee.

Thivierge was telling me about the upcoming Eliza Steel Day, which is 1-4 p.m. Saturday, June 12, at the Rockland Rec Center on the corner of Limerock and Union streets, the Rockland Public Library and the community’s new playground.

The first of what is hoped to become an annual event honors the registered nurse who founded RDNA in 1929.

“[Steele] had a tremendous influence on health care” in the Rockland area, Thivierge explained, adding that RDNA “is perpetuating her values by advocating independence, health and well-being to this day.”

The purpose of the celebration is “to pass along Eliza’s memory and to inspire community support for her ongoing legacy.

“Because the generation of people who interacted with Eliza is growing older, we want to preserve stories about her, and share them with younger generations [and help them] to learn about and appreciate the fruits of her efforts, namely RDNA.”

Thivierge told me Steele started out as a nurse working for the American Red Cross, and when the organization left the community, Steele thought there still was a need for the services the ARC offered.

“[Steele] went to the doctors and dentists in the city, and said we owe this to our people,” said Thivierge. “She believed a community was only as strong as its weakest people, and she got the doctors to donate their time” to such programs as the well-baby clinic Steele founded, as well as immunization clinics and dental check-ups.

Apparently Steele performed what were called, at the time, “summer roundups,” Thivierge said.

When children were getting ready to start school, Steele organized clinics “to get the attention the children needed,” including eye, oral and ear exams.

That’s when the memory of those annual school physicals came back to me, and Thivierge said she, too, remembered “when we all got our polio vaccination on sugar cubes.”

The purpose of the upcoming celebration is to bring back some memories, but also to celebrate the continued services provided by RDNA, Thivierge said.

“We are a small agency,” she stated, “yet our nurses have many years of experience and are familiar faces within the community” they have been continuously serving for 80 years.

According to Thivierge, RDNA provides non-acute, in-home nursing services to residents of Rockland, Thomaston, South Thomaston, Owls Head, St. George, Cushing, Warren and Union, serving all, regardless of ability to pay and, particularly focusing on individuals who might otherwise not have access to in-home nursing care.

Eliza Steele Day is a public celebration for all ages, and it’s free.

“We want people to come in; celebrate the community; celebrate all that she has done; and just pass along her stories so people will go forward” with Eliza Steele’s philosophy of serving those in need.

Joni Averill, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402; javerill@bangordailynews.com; 990-8288.

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