Dedicated Public Health Nurses have served Kennebunkport residents since May 1st, 1947. At that time, the greatest need was in prenatal and maternity care, infant and pre-school care, control and prevention of communicable diseases, and health education. As Kennebunkport shifted to an older demographic, so too did the focus of our Public Health Nurse.
The Kennebunkport Health Council had held occasional health clinics in the early 1940s, but timing depended upon the availability of the York County visiting nurse. The council wanted a full-time nurse of their own to serve the community from their headquarters in the old Methodist Church building on Maine Street. In 1943, the state passed The Enabling Act, which provided partial state funding for small towns to have a dedicated full-time public health nurse.
The steeple on the old Methodist Church was condemned on November 19, 1946. The whole building had to be closed. The Health Council, anticipating the imminent arrival of their full-time nurse, scrambled to find a suitable space in town for a new headquarters. They set up a temporary meeting room in the hall over the village fire station on Ocean Avenue until they could find a suitable permanent location. They finally rented the rooms above The First National Grocery Store in Dock Square for $15 a month and fit them up for offices, examination rooms, and the already popular equipment loan closet that many of us still rely upon.
The Council met in Dock Square for the first time on March 11, 1947. They accepted donations of equipment and money for the program. The local chapter of the Red Cross offered to donate $450 toward the nurse’s 1947 salary and Mrs. Herbert Walker helped to furnish necessary equipment. The Olympian Club offered the free use of their building on Temple Street for larger meetings, conferences, and clinics.
Meanwhile, Miss Florence Poirier of Biddeford was finishing up her public health course at Simmons College. May 1st 1947 was her first day on the job in Kennebunkport. She also served the people of North Kennebunkport. She was expected to work 6 days a week and was not allowed to smoke on duty. On Sundays, a member of the Health Council took emergency calls at her home.
Dr. H.L. Prescott was the attending physician for the first three clinics at the Olympian Club but his own health failed and Dr. Robert Downing of Kennebunk finished out the year of 1947. Nurse Florence Poirier and the attending physicians immunized school children against smallpox, whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus, measles, and polio. Florence conducted home visits for an optional fee of $1 per visit. Clinics were suspended from Oct 1947-Jan 1948 due to repercussions of the fire of 1947, but every school child in Kennebunkport had a physical examination during the first two years of Miss Poirier’s tenure. Attending Physicians were paid $1 for each physical examination.
The Public Health Nurse’s Office was in Dock Square until the late fifties when Colonial Pharmacy opened in the building. Nurse Florence Poirier moved back to the hall above the fire station on Ocean Ave where she shared space with town officials until their quarters were finished at the new municipal building on Elm Street in April 1960.
Florence Poirier retired in 1961 after serving as Kennebunkport’s Public Health Nurse for 14 years. Judy Worthen Barrett, the longest serving Kennebunkport Public Health Nurse, served as our Public Health Nurse from 1983-2014. Many of us fondly remember Judy’s talent, her boundless energy, and her pragmatic kindness.
I want to personally wish the current Public Health Department, now housed in a headquarters adjacent to The Kennebunkport Police Department, a very happy 75th birthday. Thank you, Public Health Nurse Alison Kenneway and your nursing colleagues Stacy Corsie and Kimberly Noble for your service. We are very fortunate to have perhaps the only Town Nurse left in Maine still looking after us in Kennebunkport.