County Women’s Health Conference covers more than just women’s health topics

Release Date: 04/10/2017

A key component of the second annual County Women’s Health Conference held on April 8 was an Opioid Panel Discussion with, seated from left: Pete McCorison, CLSW, from AMHC; John Thyng, PA-C, a provider in TAMC’s emergency department; Chief Matt Irwin from the Presque Isle Police Department; and Roxanne Burt, an individual in recovery.  Moderating the discussion was Shawn Cunningham from WAGM-TV.  More than 80 women attended the 4-hour conference sponsored by TAMC and the Maine Agri-Women.

Aroostook County  -  The Aroostook Medical Center partnered with the Maine Agri-Women to host the second annual County Women’s Health Conference on Saturday, April 8, at TAMC.  Despite what the title may imply, however, there was a lot more than topics specific to women’s health taking place.
“In discussions with the ladies from Maine Agri-Women and others, we worked to identify topics of interest early in the planning stages. One topic that rose to the top was the issue of drugs in Aroostook County.  While this may not be what some consider a “women’s topic” it really is a topic of concern for everyone,” explained Jamie Guerrette, community health specialist at TAMC and one of the coordinators of the conference.  “As mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, and even employers, it is a topic that touches our hearts in one way or another.”

With that in mind, a panel discussion on drug issues, particularly opioid abuse, was a featured part of the morning’s event.  Panel members included John Thyng, PA-C, a provider in TAMC’s emergency department; Chief Matt Irwin from the Presque Isle Police Department; Pete McCorison, CLSW, from AMHC; and Roxanne Burt, an individual in recovery.  Moderating the discussion was Shawn Cunningham from WAGM-TV.
Burt’s story was shared with the more than 80 women in attendance, as well as some words of hard-earned wisdom.
“You need to put one foot in front of the other and just keep moving forward. You can’t do it on your own though. You need help and there are resources here in The County to help,” she said.  She specifically spoke about the difference that the Presque Isle Homeless Shelter, the residence facility in Limestone, and SAD#1 Adult Education has made in her recovery. 
In addition to going to support meetings to help in her ongoing recovery, Burt gives back and is an advocate for others facing the challenges of addiction.
“I go to RTF [the resident facility in Limestone] to head recovery meetings there, and I speak in the community, like this, to try to give back to the community that has given me so much,” she explained.  
Along with Burt’s poignant personal experience, the other panelists brought a great deal of experience to the topic for other perspectives: from law enforcement to handling overdoses and helping with recovery.
Thyng, who has worked in the emergency room at TAMC for over 14 years, talked about the big change in culture regarding drugs locally during that time.
“When I started, it used to be fairly rare to see an OD [overdose] and it was a big deal. Now we are seeing five, six, seven a week.  It takes a lot of resources to handle these and it takes a big toll on the staff too,” he explained.  The toll on staff goes beyond the emotional stress of handling these kinds of cases, according to Thyng. “The change in the law regarding opioid prescriptions is making patients more desperate and more dangerous.” 
Thyng went on to urge attendees to look for ways that they can make an impact.
“We need to find the resources to make changes. Contact your legislators and urge them to support resources for inpatient facilities and counselors,” he said.
That sentiment was echoed by McCorison from AMHC.
“One of the things we need to do to be successful is to get organized. This issue is systemic.  It impacts all communities and all families,” he said.  “It is fitting to be having this discussion here today, since women have often shaped change.”
As for the question as to whether or not having legalized marijuana in Maine will add to the bigger drug problem, the consensus of the panelist was a resounding yes.
“This community, the state as a whole, can’t afford the problem we already have. Now making marijuana legal, having access to candy and food with THC in it, will lead to many more problems,” said Chief Irwin.  “I don’t know of anyone who has started out using drugs like cocaine and heroin.  With the exception of those who first got addicted through prescribed pain killers, most have started with marijuana.”
He went on to explain that while neither alcohol or marijuana are “bad” in themselves, it is the way they are used. While some people use these substances with no issues, others start using them with dire consequences. The real problem is that no one begins using them with the intent to become addicted; however, that is certainly the outcome that some will reach.
“Marijuana will make money for some people, but it won’t be worth the cost to the community,” agreed McCorison.  While Thyng added, “It’s not just the cost to the community, but the cost to our children.”
Overall, the panel discussion and the following questions and answers with the audience allowed for a very thoughtful conversation on the topic. 
Following the panel, conference participants learned more about their health across their lifespan.  Mary Hamilton, CNM from TAMC’s OB/GYN & Midwifery Services and Lucy Richard, CNM, WHNP from TAMC’s Women’s Health Center led a presentation on “Staying Healthy at Any Age.”  Topics ranged from cancer screenings and immunizations to diet and physical activity.  Depression was an area that was identified as becoming a bigger issue over the past year.
“Pay attention to how you feel, and listen to friends and family about what they are saying about how they feel,” advised Richard. 
Both providers stressed the importance of annual exams, not just for the screenings that may go along with it, but, just as importantly, for the conversation that takes place during that exam with your provider.
Other presentations during the conference included Diabetes Prevention & Care with Christine O’Meara, BSN, RN, CDE, a certified diabetes educator at TAMC, and Understanding & Treating Shoulder Problems with Dr. Wendy Boucher from TAMC’s Orthopedic Services practice.
In addition to presentations, participants had access to a number of vendor displays representing services or opportunities in the community that may be of interest to them, including: ACAP, Aroostook Area Agency on Aging, AMHC, Hope & Justice Project, Donate Life, SAGE, TAMC’s LifeSAFE program and United Way of Aroostook.
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