Computer record-keeping is relatively new to the medical profession, especially when compared to the days where home visits by a leather bag-carrying physician and a nurse was the norm.
Julie Fernald, who recently retired after a 39-year career as nurse at Maine Coast Memorial Hospital’s Southwest Harbor Medical Center, witnessed firsthand this and other transitions in health care. Along with losing Fernald’s nursing skills and rapport with patients, the medical center has lost someone who, through her contact with generations of patients, retains a storehouse of medical history that predates the computer age.
“She has a huge wealth of information,” said nurse Kendra Duley, who joined the team at the medical center a year ago.
In some cases, Fernald said, she informed patients of family history that they themselves were not aware.
“You almost feel like a family member because you’ve known them for such a long length of time,” the retired nurse said.
Fernald graduated from Mount Desert Island High School in 1972 and subsequently went to work as a certified nursing assistant at Mount Desert Island Hospital in Bar Harbor. In 1973, she enrolled in a licensed practical nursing program at Southern Maine Vocational Technical College, graduating in 1974. She returned to the Bar Harbor hospital and on June 4, 1976, began working at the Southwest Harbor Medical Center, where she would remain for the rest of her career.
Fernald’s predilection to nursing was predictable. Her family included four brothers and four sisters.
“I got to take care of them all,” she said.
She never regretted her career choice. “I like the variety,” she said. As a small-town clinic, patients range from newborns to people who could be, and sometimes are, the baby’s great-grandparent. The clinic even has a small emergency room, where staff can treat accident victims and other patients needing immediate care.
Fernald estimates she has worked with 10 different physicians during her career. The first was Dr. Channing Washburn, and the clinic basically was their base.
“Most afternoons we made house calls,” Fernald recalled.
She and Washburn also made regular trips by ferry to Swan’s Island and Frenchboro to see patients. There was a clinic on Swan’s Island associated with the housing authority there, she said.
Although the majority of the clinic’s patients come from Southwest Harbor and Tremont but, by Fernald’s friendly care and devotion to those under her care, others come from off-island, some driving from as far as Gouldsboro.
One of those patients, Paxton Colley of Ellsworth, said she makes the trip to the clinic because of the “family-oriented” care provided at the Southwest Harbor clinic. Perhaps inspired by Fernald and others at the clinic, Colley begins this fall a pre-med program at the University of Alabama.
Fernald also served as a role model for other nurses. She happily shares her knowledge with younger nurses.
“I’m a newer nurse,” Duley said. “She has been very helpful to me.”
One change Fernald has seen in her 39 years involves the age of people seeking care. As younger people find it less affordable to live on Mount Desert Island, patients increasingly are senior citizens. As a result, the staff finds itself providing more end-of-life care than pediatric care.
“We lost a large number of patients in the past two years,” she said. While sad, it’s “part of the circle of life,” she added.
Advances in technology, especially the use of computers, has been another change Fernald has seen and one that she has not fully embraced. She notes she won’t miss this part of her job.
“Electronic medical records are a bit challenging for us old farts,” she explained.
Fernald and her husband, Cecil, live in Somesville. Asked what she plans to do in retirement, she answers without pause.
“My husband has a honey-do list for me,” she said. The list includes painting, carpentry and spending time at the couple’s camp on Molasses Pond.
Will she miss coming to work at the clinic and the people there?
“Yes, I keep telling myself that I won’t, but I will,” she said.