Nurse, technically retired, still busy in devotion to public health career

June 14, 1994|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Sun Staff Writer

Alice Murray could be playing golf. Or bridge. Or just spending time relaxing on her 68-acre farm in Cumberstone, sitting on the porch overlooking the West River.

After 36 years as a public health nurse, most folks figured she had earned a little R&R when she retired from the Anne Arundel County Health Department in April 1993.

But after a four-month trip to Japan to visit her daughter and son-in-law who were stationed there with the U.S. Navy and two weeks back home "to clean house," Mrs. Murray was back to what she loved best -- community health -- this time volunteering three or four days a week at the Owensville Medical Center in South County.

"Once a public health nurse always a public health nurse," said Mrs. Murray, who at 59 has no intention of really retiring any time soon.

Over the years, she said, she has seen many health issues come and go.

As a young nurse fresh from Boston University with a bachelor of science degree in nursing, Mrs. Murray started her career in Boston's South End, treating many immigrant populations and tackling problems such as tuberculosis, drug and alcohol addiction and inadequate pre-natal care.

She moved to Anne Arundel County with her husband a year later, worked in Baltimore for a couple years, then started her career with the county's Health Department.

Last year before she retired, she was still combating tuberculosis, drug and alcohol addiction and inadequate pre-natal care. But as much as things stay the same, they also change, she said.

Tuberculosis, for example, was not a major health threat for many years. But recently, with the emergence of treatment-resistant strains, the disease again has become a serious public health issue.

With pre-natal care, the county has made tremendous progress during her career here, she said, lowering the infant mortality rate from 30 deaths per 1,000 live births to just over nine, which is in keeping with the national average.

It is successes like that, she said, that have kept her going for so many years.

"Some problems seem to stay the same, but there are always characteristics that change," she said. "It never gets boring.

"What is most satisfying to me is the ability, over time, to influence the health of whole families," she continued. "But you have to have patience in this kind of work. Some changes take generations to achieve."

Health care professionals who have worked with Mrs. Murray say her dedication to the community, particularly the working poor, is well known.

"A lot of nurses are here because of Alice Murray. She's a real nurse's nurse," said Frances Philips, the county's health officer. "People know about her across the state. Many chose to work here specifically because of her."

Ms. Philips said one of Mrs. Murray's greatest strengths from the start was recognizing the impact community health nurses could have.

"She recognized that nurses could do a lot more than they were," she said. "She encouraged everyone when they did a home visit to look at all the people in the household, look at the environment. What got the nurse in the home might have been a post-partum visit, but they could look to do so much more."

Now, Mrs. Murray is doing administrative work at the Owensville Center, helping other board members fill the role of executive director while the center searches for a new one.

The center's former director, Maryellen O. Brady, left in April.

Once a new executive director is hired, she hopes to do less budget and personnel work and get back to what really motivates her.

"The family is my patient," she said. "I love working with the families. I don't think I'll ever get tired of it."

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