BELFAST — Susan Dupler could probably use a day off.

The Belfast resident is the Waldo County Public Health Nurse, a job that requires care plans for, not only individual patients, but the entire Greater Belfast community. In this role Dupler wears a lot of hats. A typical day at the office is likely to include phone calls to community partners seeking resources, running a vaccine clinic at a local facility, or searching for homeless patients off the beaten path. In short, Dupler is everywhere.

“I love my job,” Dupler said. “It has its challenges, but this is where I grew up. I love this community.”

The community, in turn, loves Dupler. On Nov. 4 she was named the Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year during the Chamber’s annual celebration at the Hutchinson Center. In September she was named the recipient of the prestigious Francine M. Rideout Service Excellence Award from MaineHealth Medical Group.

“It’s humbling,” Dupler said of the recognition. “It’s an honor just to be nominated for those awards.”

Dupler’s career in health care and community nursing began early. She carried a pencil case around in kindergarten stocked with adhesive bandages, offering them to classmates as needed. After graduating from Belfast Area High School in 1977, she studied nursing in Florida before returning to Maine in 1987 to take a job in Bangor at Eastern Maine Medical Center. Working in EMMC’s cardiac unit was fulfilling, but Dupler longed for home.

“Belfast had given me so much,” she said. “So, I decided to come back to Waldo County.”

Dupler returned in 1993 and spent 16 years nursing in the Waldo County General Hospital’s Emergency Department. Shorter stints followed in WCGH’s recovery, procedure and infusion departments before the public health nursing position opened up.

“I didn’t even know what a public health nurse did,” Dupler said, “and this position was different from was state of Maine public health nurses did. Her interest peaked when she was told, if hired, she would be the one to design the program.

“That appealed to me,” Dupler said. “I’m very independent.”

The city of Belfast has had a public health nurse since 1919. This position shifted to WCGH, and MaineHealth, in 1996.

“I work for the city of Belfast and Waldo County,” she said. “I’m also a care manager for MaineHealth. It’s a unique position.”

Care managers assess and treat individual patients, or groups of patients. Dupler does both. In her role with MaineHealth, she may be called upon to treat individual patients. As Waldo County Public Health Nurse, her concerns are much broader.

“My main concern is the city of Belfast and keeping the community healthy the best way I can,” she said. “I try to meet the needs of the area.”

As a public health nurse, Dupler addresses the needs of populations within Belfast and Waldo County. The homeless, elderly, children and families have all benefited from programs Dupler has initiated through community partnerships. As a case manager assigned to an individual patient, a nurse assemble the resources available at a medical facility to address health issues. Public health nurses sometimes do this, but maintain a more macro view of community health. The public health nurse also assembles community resources to address the challenges faced by groups of people in the Belfast and Waldo County areas.

“We get a lot of assistance from the community,” Dupler said. “Belfast Soups Kitchen, Waldo County Community Action Program, Maine Behavioral Health — we work with all of them.”

Dupler also works with the general assistance agencies of every town in Waldo County, stays in contact with school nurses, and works closely with hospice agencies.

When she’s not burning up the phones looking for community resources, Dupler is actively involved in running community health programs. She oversaw every COVID vaccination clinic that was held at the Bank of America building.

“We were able to help a lot of people during that time,” Dupler said of the COVID clinics at BOA. “There were some days when 1200 plus people came through.”

While she prefers to work “behind the scenes,” Dupler’s position as public health nurse requires she be seen in the community.

“Wherever I go,” Dupler explained, “I’m assessing. Whether it’s a need for a group, or an individual, I’m always in assessment mode.”

Many of these assessments are made at the Belfast Soup Kitchen. Dupler is at BSK nearly every day during the week. There, she can assess individuals and groups, provide education through community partnerships, and assist people in need of treatment and/or services. In every case, she seeks to provide timely and appropriate solutions. An example of this is found in what Dupler calls one of her “success stories.”

Susan Dupler works at the Belfast Soup Kitchen, where she spends much of her week in her role as Waldo County Public Health Nurse. Photo courtesy of Belfast Soup Kitchen

Dupler was approached by a local individual who had been living in a tent for a decade, and feared they were sick. The individual was unable to be seen at a medical facility. Dupler arranged an appointment the next week where the individual found out they had Lyme disease.

“(The individual) didn’t have Medicare or MaineCare,” said Dupler. “We did applications and got him treatment and disability.”

Following treatment, the individual moved from the tent to a boat. This arrangement lasted a few years before it also became difficult.

“I pulled every resource I had,” said Dupler. “We were able to get (the individual) to general assistance and he moved into a motel.

“Now they will be moving into subsidized housing,” she said. “It’s full circle.”

Waldo County General Hospital President Mark Fourre notes much of Dupler’s job goes unnoticed in the community, until she is needed.

“She’s in the community caring for the underserved,” Fourre said. “She does it with grace and she’s incredibly effective.”

Community leaders are grateful for Dupler’s contributions.

“She is the most giving, selfless person I know,” said Belfast Soup Kitchen Executive Director Cherie Merrill. “She not only does it for her job, but it’s also what she likes to do. She definitely has her finger on the pulse of this community.”