Honoring Dr. Lani Graham, an Outstanding Health Professional

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09.26.2019

A family physician, Dr. Lani Graham, MD, MPH, has devoted her career to fighting not only for the health of her patients, but also for the health of the wider human community—here in Maine, and across the nation.

“I am deeply touched to be receiving this award from an organization like the Environmental Health Strategy Center, which is the premiere organization for environmental health in Maine and the very essence of environmental health activism,” said Dr. Graham in response to the award. “Nothing important in public health is ever accomplished solo. It always takes a group of committed, hardworking and knowledgeable people who really care. I am lucky to have worked with such an organization, and to be recognized by the Strategy Center is indeed an honor.”

This year, Dr. Graham’s testimony as a member of Maine’s medical community helped lead to the passage of LD 1433, the Safe Food Packaging Act, which will protect current and future generations of Mainers by phasing out toxic PFAS chemicals and phthalates from food packaging. Dr. Graham has also been instrumental in passing other precedent-setting environmental public health legislation, such as the 2008 Kid Safe Products Act, which led to similar protective laws in other states.

Currently, Dr. Graham is a member of Governor Janet Mills’ PFAS task force, which will advise the Governor with recommendations to tackle the problem of toxic PFAS contamination in food, water, and soil.

Throughout her career, Dr. Graham has always been a powerful advocate for environmental health. Beginning with her return to her native state of Maine in 1986, she has worked for major reforms to protect people from harmful chemicals in the environment. Some of these include: 

  • Working with the state toxicologist to draw attention to the health dangers of dioxin and testifying against its release into Maine rivers in front of the Board of Environmental Protection
  • Playing an important role in a national effort to stop the use of the toxic chemical daminozide (also known as Alar) in food
  • Turning the attention of public health to childhood lead poisoning, helping to pass new laws and reducing the blood level considered unhealthy
  • Working to see that both public and private water supplies were tested for radon

Later, after becoming the director of the Maine Bureau of Health, Dr. Graham issued the first-in-the-nation statewide warning regarding mercury contamination of freshwater fish caught in Maine’s rivers and lakes. Other states and countries went on to follow Dr. Graham's example.

After leaving her position as Maine Bureau of Health director, Dr. Graham continued her advocacy for the environment. She became chair of Citizens for a Healthy Portland, a coalition that lead the effort in Portland to ban smoking in restaurants, and subsequently lead to a statewide ban, thus protecting waitstaff and customers alike from a class A carcinogen.

Working with colleagues in Physicians for Social Responsibility, Dr. Graham published a report, Death by Degrees, in the year 2000 about the dangers of climate change for Maine, and collaborated on an update of that report in 2015.

Other highlights of her career in Maine not directly related to the environment include writing and implementing the Maine plan to address the HIV epidemic, assuring funding for childhood immunizations, and establishing the first statewide plan to assure breast and cervical cancer screening for all Maine women. Up until November 2017, Dr. Graham was director of the Medical Professionals Health Program, helping colleagues with substance use disorders or mental health problems. 

Prior to her return to Maine, Dr. Graham focused on vulnerable communities of American Citizens, setting up hypertension clinics for the poor in Georgia, working in prisons, and serving Native Americans.

In her public service, Dr. Graham follows in the footsteps of her parents. Her father, David Graham, served in the Maine House and Senate in the 1960s through the 1970s, and was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War. Her mother, Elinor Graham, wrote three books about life in Maine focusing largely on the beauty of the Maine environment. 

Dr. Graham currently serves as a member of the Public Health Committee of the Maine Medical Association and on the board of Maine Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Please join us in honoring Dr. Graham at our Celebration for Our Healthy Future on Thursday, October 17!

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The Bettie Kettell Award for an Outstanding Health Professional goes to a nurse, physician, or other health professional who embodies the spirit of Bettie Cornise Detjen Kettell, R.N. (1947-2015), an operating-room nurse for more than 40 years and longtime resident of Durham whose outstanding leadership, compassion, intelligence, and insight made her a fierce advocate for environmental health in Maine and nationally.