PORTLAND, Maine — In an emotional ceremony Tuesday afternoon in Portland, Amanda Rowe was remembered as a beloved longtime school nurse and an influential statewide advocate for children’s healthcare initiatives.
The event served as a reopening of Portland High School’s in-house health center after a $225,000 federal grant-funded expansion and renovation, as well as a dedication of the newly revamped facility in Rowe’s name.
The health center was expanded from approximately 500 square feet to 1,500 square feet.
Rowe died of breast cancer last July at the age of 58. She had worked as a nurse — and later as the district nursing coordinator — for nearly three decades.
The wife of former Maine House Speaker and attorney general Steve Rowe made regular appearances in Augusta and Portland advocating for things like access to birth control in the schools and the establishment of in-school clinics like the one named for her Tuesday.
Portland has four other school health centers as well.
“Although she never would have wanted the attention of having something named after her, it means a great deal to dad and I that mom’s being honored here today, and that her legacy of keeping children safe and healthy lives on,” Rowe’s daughter, Lindsay, said during the ceremony. “And I think if something was going to be named after her, I think even she would have to smile and agree that this would be most fitting.”
Steve Rowe, who at one point during his remarks had to pause and compose himself, said his wife “always said healthy kids learn better.”
“This isn’t just about what they call physical primary care,” he said. “It’s dental care, it’s also about behavioral health, mental health. As Amanda knew, health is about your overall well-being. It’s not just the absence of disease or injury, it’s your overall well-being — your social, your cognitive, your emotional and your physical well-being.”
The newly expanded facility at Portland High School adds two chairs for dental hygienists to go along with two examination rooms, a conference room and other amenities.
Victoria Goodwin of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a division of which awarded the grant money used in the renovations, called the high school center a “health care safety net” for students who might not be able to afford regular trips to the doctor or dentist.
“The unfortunate truth is the first — and sometimes only — health care kids receive is right here in school,” said city Mayor Michael Brennan, who said Amanda Rowe would often lobby him when he was in the Maine Legislature working alongside her husband.
“She was always complaining to me about something I wasn’t doing … could be doing or should be doing,” he said. “If she were here today, she would be calling the governor and the Legislature and saying, ‘Pass the MaineCare expansion.’”
Maine Rep. Anne Graham, D-North Yarmouth, echoed that political message in her remarks at the ceremony Tuesday.
The administration of Republican Gov. Paul LePage has resisted Democratic efforts to expand MaineCare coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act, arguing the expansion will cost the state millions when the budget can least absorb the stress.
The Portland High School health center will not refuse services to students who can’t pay or don’t have insurance.
“This clinic will give our neediest children a fighting chance,” said school Principal Deborah Migneault.
“She always did whatever was necessary to solve the problem, whether it was cleaning a scraped knee or accompanying a student to the emergency room,” said Portland Public Schools Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk.