ROCKLAND — MBNA bank’s million-dollar investment in the women and children of midcoast Maine is about to pay off with an all-out campaign against domestic violence and substance abuse.
In the spring of 1994, the Delaware-based bank with a New England Regional headquarters in Camden and satellite operations in four other Maine communities, awarded a grant of $1 million to Penobscot Bay Medical Center. The purpose of the grant was to assess the health status, both social and medical, of Knox, Waldo and Lincoln counties, and to develop an improvement plan, with emphasis on services for women and children. That led to an exhaustive survey of care providers in the region and a series of community forums.
On Tuesday, the Healthy Commmunities Advisory Board, a citizen’s panel guiding the project, announced its seven goals. At the top of the list is reducing the level of alcohol and drug abuse and reducing the incidence of physical abuse, sexual abuse, incest, emotional abuse and neglect against persons of all ages, but especially children.
Also on Tuesday, the Women’s and Children’s Community Care Project, created by the MBNA grant, was making its final evaluation of funding requests it has received from eight organizations seeking to create new services, ranging from a chemical-free teen center and low-cost day care for infants and toddlers to a parenting course for first-time fathers. The announcement of those awards is expected within the next two weeks.
The remaining five goals of the advisory board are to create affordable health care centers as an alternative to the Pen Bay emergency room, to increase health education for all residents, to engage all segments of the population in working for improved health, to improve the health and fitness of children and young adults and to reduce the level of smoking.
While those are worthwhile objectives, the chairman of the advisory board, SAD 5 Superintendent Donald Kanicki, said there is no question that the top two demand immediate attention.
“Domestic violence is a huge problem, substance abuse is a huge problem — the annual cost of substance abuse in Maine is $1 billion,” Kanicki said. “This won’t be solved by big government. It will only be solved by us.”
The board’s first task will be to get a grip on what the myriad public and private agencies working in substance abuse and domestic violence are doing and how well they’re doing it, Kanicki said.
“We have to bring all these services together, we have to avoid overlapping in these times of diminishing resources. We can no longer afford to have duplicate agencies providing partial services.”
Kanicki said the lack of communication among groups working to the same end creates a considerable gap between the demand for a service and the resources needed to provide it. “One domestic violence group tells us that they’d be overrun if we identified them publicly as a provider. It’s an indictment of the area that here we have a credible agency that is so understaffed, so starved for resources that it can’t promote itself. We have to find out what are the impediments to closing the gap between what’s promised and what’s delivered.”
The Rev. Peter Edwards-Jenks, a board member from Thomaston, said the lack of coordination between similar groups is a major obstacle in rural areas. “We have so many small churches here, with the tenure of pastors often so brief, that it’s very hard to maintain continuity. We have no method set up for churches to talk to each other, to see how we fit together. We don’t know who has space for AA or a domestic violence shelter. There are a lot of different groups out there. They’re all doing the job well, but there is no central understanding of an overall goal.”