Baldwin retires after four decades of rehabilitating injured
Rockport — A lot has changed in the 41 years since Dick Baldwin became the Midcoast’s first full-time physical therapist, but one thing that hasn’t are his relationships with his patients and employees.
“I always thought retirement would be a piece of cake,” Baldwin said. “Honestly, though, as the day got closer, I realized it was going to be hard to say goodbye. I have built a lot of relationships over the past 41 years and not seeing them on a regular basis will certainly take some getting used to.”
Baldwin, owner of Downeast Rehabilitation Associates in Rockport has decided to retire from his practice, but the practice will remain open and continue to supply outpatient services. His last day in the office was March 26.
He came to the Midcoast in 1972 from Connecticut and began working at three area hospitals treating patients as part of their road to recovery. Camden Community Hospital, Knox Hospital and Waldo County Hospital all benefited from his service but after six years of working directly with the hospitals he said he knew it was time for a change.
“When I first came to town, I was the only full-time physical therapist in the area,” Baldwin said. “There was one part-time woman at the time and she was overwhelmed, so between three hospitals I was seeing patients’ everyday almost.”
Driving between Belfast and Rockland, Baldwin recalls making house calls in between stops at the hospitals to visit patients. That was when he finally decided there was enough need for his services and to open his own practice.
“I thought to myself, gee, I could start my own practice and make a pretty good living at it at less of a cost than the hospitals were charging,” Baldwin said. ”So I opened a practice in Camden where longtime physician and resident Dr. Millington had his office at 44 Mountain St.”
Private physical therapy practices were unheard of in Maine at the time, and Baldwin said a week after opening his doors, a phone call from the Maine Department of Human Services that threatened to shut him down.
“I answered the phone and they said ‘Mr. Baldwin, we hear that you have opened a PT practice?’ and being very proud of the fact I said, 'Well, yes, I have,'” he said.
Baldwin continued to tell how DHS was “sorry” to inform him that he could not do such a thing and that he needed to work in a hospital or nursing home.
“I had to disagree with them because I had a license that said I could practice in the state of Maine, it says nothing about where,” Baldwin said with a laugh. “I told them that as long as I was receiving referrals for the patients I was seeing, it was considered working directly with the doctor. I said, 'Shut me down if you can find I’m treating without referrals otherwise I’m within the law.' Oddly, I never heard back from them after that.”
When Baldwin began his practice, the majority of his patients were elderly and the idea of joint replacement surgery was extremely new. As the technology got better and the science behind physical therapy gained more acceptance, the demographic became increasingly younger, with a large portion coming from injured athletes trying to return to their chosen sport.
“When I first came [to open a practice] it was mostly geriatrics, people learning to cope with the pain of arthritis or were recovering from a stroke or a fall,” Baldwin said. ”With the advancement in medications, there are different ways to treat those kinds of things, so a transition from that kind of treatment to rehabilitation of patients with joint replacements, athletic injury, preseason training and getting the everyday person back to work through strengthening and flexibility programs. I have also seen the average age decrease in who uses these services.”
Now four decades later, he said he feels it is time to close one chapter and spend more time discovering his newest passion -- sailing.
Baldwin, after completing his life-long dream of a solo sail, launched Educational Passages in 2008 as a project to educate youngsters about the sciences of the world's oceans.
“I started an organization a few years back that educates about the ocean and the science behind trade winds and currents by using model boats equipped with Global Positioning Systems to trace the routes that the boats take after being launched from specific locations,” he said.
Baldwin said with the help of Midcoast School of Technology on construction of the boats and in conjunction with Maine Maritime Academy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the boats are set adrift and are tracked through their journeys.
“It is really beginning to grow and become international,” he said. “We have had boats launched from the Canary Islands and currently have one that the University of China is going to use to trace a Pacific Ocean route.”
Baldwin added some of the boats have ended up in Irish pubs and one is now at the Lisbon School of Technology in Portugal. To date, Educational Passages has launched 40 boats.
“This particular boat was launched from Cape Haterous and ended up first in Newfoundland then to Portugal,” he said. “They plan to launch it in the same place that Christopher Columbus set sail when he reached North America, so we hope the boat will find its way back home.”
Baldwin said even though he has shifted his focus from one career to the next, he plans to keep his license current and continue to operate his physical therapy business, with a much less hands-on approach.
“I had hoped that my employees would takeover the business [completely], but it wasn't great timing for any of them. They have young families and it is understandable,” he said. “They have been great employees and I trust that they can continue to maintain business as usual, but I’m sure that they will see me here time and again.”
Dwight Collins is a reporter/photographer for The Camden Herald.
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