Maine’s Local Health Officers – a Brief History

old 1922 documentSection 1: Introduction - Maine’s Local Health Officers - a Brief History

When Maine became a state in 1820, there was very little public health infrastructure. This continued until 1885, when the legislature authorized Maine’s municipalities to establish local Boards of Health, each headed by a local health officer. Over the next three decades, the State Board of Health gradually gained authority over statewide activities such as drinking water and restaurant inspections.  The programmatic and regulatory functions of the State Board of Health became the Maine Department of Health in 1917.

That following fall, the 1918 influenza pandemic swept through Maine, claiming the lives of about 5,000 people, mostly adolescents and young adults. Almost 500 independent local boards of health attempted to control the pandemic with little consistency and oversight, with mixed results.  Immediately following the pandemic in 1919, the Maine legislature transferred all statewide health guidance to the Maine Department of Health. The municipal requirement for having a local health officer was retained, but health officers were placed under the direct supervision of the Department of Health, and their duties focused to those of reporting public health threats to the state.

In 1931, The Department of Health became the Bureau of Health within the Department of Health and Welfare.  The Bureau of Health became the Maine CDC in 2005 as part of the new Department of Health and Human Services. Over the years, Maine’s public health community succeeded in confronting many difficult public health issues, often relying on collaboration with key stakeholders at the state and local levels.  In recent years, there has been a recognized need for improved coordination and streamlining of public health efforts to build an ongoing system with the ability to address a myriad of health issues.   After a three-year planning process by the forty-member Public Health Work Group, major revisions to the public health system in Maine are now being implemented.


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