Dr. Frank Bragg at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. Photo Thalassa Raasch/MaineCF

A Community Effort Evolves with Changing Health Concerns

A fund established decades ago to help tuberculosis patients now faces a new epidemic: overdose deaths in Maine that claimed a record 418 lives last year.

Grants totaling more than $200,000 from the Penobscot Valley Health Association (PVHA) Fund at MaineCF have supported treatment and recovery efforts in Greater Bangor for the past two years. Penobscot County Committee members award PVHA funds each spring through the competitive community building grant program.

The fund began as the Bangor Brewer TB and Health Association in the early 1900s to help local people care for family members with tuberculosis. “The white plague,” as it was called, claimed nearly 750 people in Bangor between 1895 and 1909, according to the Bangor Daily News.

When the state took over care and monitoring of TB patients, the fund’s mission vanished, says Dr. Frank Bragg of Bangor, who chaired the fund’s board as its work evolved with a changing world. Armed with a new name, the Penobscot Valley Health Association looked for other ways to meet the community’s needs. PVHA first launched asthma education, an initiative that continued until Eastern Maine Medical Center began its own program. Next came AIDS education as PVHA stepped in to help a struggling local AIDS network get back on its feet.

In 1990 the association turned its attention to the growing issue of homeless youth – 200 to 250 each night had no place to sleep, according to a Bangor City Council report. PVHA hired a social worker, sold its medical equipment from the TB days, and rounded up beds from a former osteopathic hospital. Its building became Shaw House, a homeless shelter PVHA operated for seven years.

With the retirement of the PVHA’s executive director, says Bragg, the board sold its building and became a grantmaking organization. It invested $1.3 million with MaineCF in 1996 to address health and public welfare in the Greater Bangor community; several PVHA board members, including Bragg, continued to advise the grantmaking process. Today the fund continues to support its mission through grants awarded by the Penobscot County Committee.

Laura Reed, MaineCF’s foundation officer in Penobscot County, says Bragg’s leadership and commitment to improve quality of life stretches beyond his medical practice and extends into his community: “His time and voice over the years have helped Bangor evolve and embrace its challenges.”

Bragg just completed nine years of service on the Penobscot County Committee, but the legacy he carried to MaineCF will continue every year as PVHA Fund grants address unmet health needs in the Bangor area. The Penobscot Valley Health Association remains true to its roots,” says Bragg, to “respect the spirit in which that money was left to the community.”

MaineCF grants support opioid treatment efforts

The following grants were awarded from MaineCF’s Penobscot Valley Health Association Fund:

2016

  • Acadia Hospital Corp., for the Primary Care Suboxone Training pilot project: $50,000
  • Bangor Area Recovery Network, for a telephone recovery service: $23,100
  • Bangor Public Health & Community Services, to support Community Health Leadership Board efforts to address and improve substance use disorder outcomes in Greater Bangor: $10,000
  • Penobscot Community Health Care, Inc., for assessment of patient outcomes and patient/family experiences with the CHAMP program for newborn babies who are undergoing treatment for physical and emotional symptoms experienced because of prenatal narcotic exposure: $10,000

 2017

  • Down East AIDS Network, to strengthen the Health Equity Alliance's overdose reversal medication distribution program and enhance access to treatment and recovery services: $50,000
  • Families and Children Together, to produce videos to be shared through YouTube and Facebook to change the perception of addiction and recovery: $8,760
  • Penobscot Community Health Care, Inc., to support medication-assisted treatment, including Suboxone induction, primary care services, and mental health counseling: $50,000
  • Wellspring, Inc., to provide supportive services for clients who have completed the residential addiction treatment program and are moving into the transitional housing program: $8,000

- Andrea Nemitz