By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Public Health Nursing Director Carol Ryan was blunt.
“In terms of premature deaths,” she said of a recent study of public health in New York’s 62 counties, “we were 62 out of 62.
“We were worse than the Bronx,” she added. “We were the worst in the state.”
The same study (www.countyhealthrankings.org/app/new-york/2012/sullivan/county/1/6) ranked Sullivan County nearly dead last in overall public health, as well, leaving local officials wondering how they might appropriately respond.
The answer came in the form of Callicoon resident Liz Bucar, who suggested a countywide health forum.
So on Thursday, October 4, Bucar, Ryan and around 50 area leaders, residents and activists gathered at the Stroebele Recreation Center in Monticello to talk about the problems and ponder the solutions made even more challenging by the poverty in the county.
“Health and wealth they are related,” acknowledged Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, who said the lack of universal healthcare “ain’t right in the United States of America.”
Identified problems included prescription drug abuse, the limited availability of public transportation, the cost of private transportation, stores that don’t accept Women, Infants and Children (WIC) vouchers, toxins in the food supply, families living in hotels, limited supplies of infant formula, addictions, and the continued cuts in funding for the Sullivan County Youth Bureau, among others.
Proposed solutions included campaigning for increased government funding for needed and useful services, bringing more organic food into schools, encouraging volunteerism in and support of organizations like the Lions and Head Start, utilizing the resources of libraries and the 211 info line, carpooling, bringing back a hospital-sponsored RV that used to travel the county providing health services, hosting health fairs in every local municipality, and more coordination amongst the agencies assisting the needy and infirmed.
Some of those goals may be met by a new countywide resources directory being created by the Interfaith Council.
And Beth Mastro, who facilitated the forum, hoped some of the connections made between everyone in the room would lead to even more cooperation and solutions.
In addition to a range of health providers with tables and tables of information, the evening also featured a tribute to Dr. Katherine Seibert.
The oncologist and microbiologist is also a nun with the Sisters of Charity and a beloved force for good health in the region for the past two decades.
She’s currently working with Hudson River Healthcare.
“You’re a local legend of medicine,” Gunther told Seibert whilst handing her an award.
“I’m privileged and humbled,” Seibert acknowledged, promising to continue her efforts. “There is no greater joy or reward than to make a fundamental difference in someone’s life.”
She urged the crowd to follow suit.
“You have this one life,” she said. “You must live it, own it, and make the world a better place.”