Health department's 65th year much like its first

April 02, 1995|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,Contributing Writer

In 1930, the newly formed Anne Arundel County health department's four members traveled around the county giving vaccines for tuberculosis, diphtheria and typhoid and inspecting water supplies.

Today, as the health department prepares to celebrate its 65th anniversary, diphtheria and typhoid have been conquered. Now the department's staff of more than 500 nurses uses rehabilitation and prevention programs to fight AIDS, cancer and drug addiction.

On Tuesday, the department will celebrate 65 years of community health care at a reception from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in Annapolis at the J. Howard Beard Health Services Building. Annapolis Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins and Alfred Sommers, dean of the School of Hygiene and Public Health at the John Hopkins University, will speak.

The department has gone through tremendous changes since 1930, yet in some aspects it "has gone full circle," said county health officer Frances Phillips, who also will speak at Tuesday's reception.

The department has returned to the community focus it had in the 1930s. It began with a full-scale effort to vaccinate the county's school-age children and has just ended a two-year vaccine program.

Its midwives once delivered babies in the county; now the department wants to bring midwives back to teach pregnant women prenatal care and how to care for their babies.

"Local citizens have come to expect public health approaches [that fit] their neighborhoods or communities," Ms. Phillips said.

When the department opened, its primary role was treating diseases. But as more private physicians moved into the county, the department focused more on teaching citizens how to take care of themselves and prevent diseases, said spokeswoman Evelyn Stein.

The department has its origins in a 1914 Maryland General Assembly law that required all counties to set up health departments. Allegany County had the first department in 1922. Caroline County formed the last department in 1934.

Anne Arundel's department was unique because it was designed as a model department where personnel from other counties would be trained. The Rockefeller Foundation, the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, the state health department and the county board of commissioners provided the $20,000 that funded the department for its first year.

When it started, it operated out of two small rooms in the basement of the State House. It moved to Anne Arundel General Hospital a year later. Since 1972 it has been at 3 Harry S. Truman Parkway.

Ms. Phillips said the department's employees have always had a strong sense of dedication.

Elsie Queen, the department's former assistant director of nursing who retired in 1993, was one of those employees. She said the biggest change she noticed in 31 years was the change in family planning when oral contraceptives made it easier for women to plan families.

"It was once taboo to discuss family planning," Ms. Queen, 60, said. "It went from a nonexistent program to a major program."

Alice Murray, the former director of maternal and child health, said the department always had great community support. People used to donate money to build health centers throughout the county, said Ms. Murray, 59.

"There was so much loyalty and dedication to public health," said Ms. Murray, who retired in 1993 after 29 years.

At Tuesday's reception, the department will display memorabilia, including an old-fashioned scale the nurses used to weigh infants, a 1920 sphygmomanometer used to measure blood pressure and an old nurse's bag filled with glass syringes, tongue depressors, rubber gloves and other medical items from that era. Nurses' uniforms also will be modeled.

Ms. Phillips said the department is fortunate because it is near two metropolitan areas and many university programs.

"We hope to work more at the community level selecting the best ideas from the metropolitan and university settings and applying them to the community," she said.

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