Early in the 1900s, the American Red Cross supervised the public health unit in Rockland, Maine, a small coastal community. In 1929 the Red Cross chose to no longer provide public health services. Employed as the Rockland public health nurse, Eliza Steele, RN was determined not to leave residents, notably the indigent, without access to community health care. Thus the Rockland District Nursing Association was born in partnership with civic leaders and the City of Rockland, a unique model bringing the resources of the public and private sector together in service to the community. RDNA was formed as, and has remained, an independent, local non-profit organization, working closely with area partners and the City of Rockland.
A nursing fixture around town until her retirement in 1969, Eliza Steele guided RDNA in caring for residents regardless of ability to pay. Community clinics (well-baby, vaccination, dental, public health) were regularly held, with physicians and dentists donating their time both for the clinic and follow-up care. In the 1932 report to the City of Rockland, Eliza Steele logged more than 5,100 home visits and over 1,000 visits to expectant mothers, mothers after childbirth, and their newborns. For decades, Eliza Steele/RDNA was the school nurse before the position was officially established in the system, meticulously documenting student health over the years. Today RDNA clients are predominantly elderly residents living independently, who RDNA nurses see regularly in their homes or at monthly blood pressure clinics.
Since inception, RDNA’s role has evolved, with health care facilities and government entities taking on and expanding many of the services RDNA originally provided. As this small agency responds and adapts to emerging needs and changes in health care, RDNA endeavors to remain grounded in Eliza Steele’s founding vision.
In 2008, GEM Productions produced an oral history on Eliza Steele, RN. Since 2011, area youth have embarked on annual Eliza Steele Mercy Marches and Youth Fasts, raising funds and awareness for RDNA. Through their presentations at area churches, civic organizations, businesses, public events and on local media, these high school youth are connected with area residents who knew and remember Eliza Steele and retired RDNA nurses.
Engaging the past with the present allows this treasured history to remain alive and integral to RDNA today.