Mouth That Roars

Bill Liblick has made a name for himself of National TV Talk Shows where he spouted his outspoken views from the front row. Now he offers you his opinion every week in the "MOUTH THAT ROARS" Column in the Sullivan County Post.

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April 7th, 2016

We Are in a Health Crisis

As we all know by now – Sullivan is continually one of the unhealthiest County’s in New York State.  Nancy McGraw, Sullivan County’s Public Health Director, has been very concerned over these statistics and is working endlessly to improve our ratings.

I asked Nancy to speak directly to Sullivan County residents about this crisis and during the next few weeks she will be using this forum to begin a dialogue to make us healthier.


National Public Health Week and Improving County Health Rankings                         

By Nancy McGraw                                                                                                                     

Sullivan County Public Health Director

During the first full week of April each year, the American Public Health Association brings together communities across the United States to observe National Public Health Week as a time to recognize the contributions of public health and highlight issues that are important to improving our nation.

Every year, the Association develops a national campaign to educate the public, policymakers and practitioners about issues related to each year’s theme.  The theme for 2016 is “The Healthiest Nation in One Generation.” The goal is to make the United States the healthiest nation in the world by the year 2030. Yet we are facing the highest levels of childhood obesity, diabetes and drug abuse in our history, to name a few issues.

As part of our mission to improve the health of the county, Sullivan County Public Health Services and our many partner organizations conducted many outreach activities this week to highlight efforts to help our community understand the tools they need to become healthier.

This ranged from conducting free blood pressure screenings, talking to seniors, participating in SUNY Sullivan’s Health and Wellness fair, providing information on smoking cessation and free nicotine replacement products, healthy eating choices, and ways to increase levels of physical activity that fits into a person’s lifestyle. Staff have been featured on Thunder 102 throughout the week to discuss Healthy Families, a child abuse prevention and parenting education program, the WIC nutrition program that promotes the importance of nutrition, breastfeeding and its health benefits, and our partnership with PRASAD Children’s Dental Health Program to highlight what we are doing to improve dental health for the county’s children and pregnant women.

On Saturday, April 9, our health educator is giving a presentation on Lyme disease prevention and ticks at Morgan Outdoors in Livingston Manor at 10:30 am.  (Call Lisa at 845-439-5507 to reserve a seat for this presentation). Public health staff always go above and beyond because they are committed, passionate and caring people who live in your community and want to make a difference.

National Public Health Week is an opportunity to highlight the many efforts that our local health department staff engage in, as well as to bring attention to the efforts of our many community partners such as Cornell Cooperative Extension, Sullivan Renaissance, Catskill Mountainkeeper, SUNY Sullivan, Catskill Regional Medical Center, and Hudson River Healthcare to improve and protect the health of our community.

The efforts of many organizations promote the importance of preventive checkups, community and school gardens, reducing consumption of sugary drinks, and the importance of exercise, even if it is just walking 10 to 20 minutes a day.

All these things can make a big difference in health when you multiply it by 76,000 or so people over time. Little changes make a big difference but many of our neighbors need help to get there. There are health disparities in terms of unequal access to health care services, healthy affordable food, and education programs. This is difficult to do in a large rural county of almost 1,000 square miles. Lower health status is often related to poverty, employment, disability, transportation and racial inequities that lead to health disparities.  

The local health department has trained hundreds of law enforcement, first responders, school nurses, firefighters, and county employees in naloxone administration and has saved countless lives over the past two years. 

Our partner Catholic Charities Community Services of Orange and Sullivan (Recovery Center) collaborates with us to ensure that family members and those suffering from addiction, which is a disease, not a moral failure, are trained in naloxone use.  Together we are helping to educate the community about reducing the stigma of mental illness and substance abuse, as is WJFF and the Kingfisher Project and many school districts who have started task forces; this is an ongoing effort. 

More needs to be done to bring resources to Sullivan County for treatment of substance abuse and for prevention programs for our youth. Finally, we are so fortunate to have the Boys & Girls Club and we need to invest even more in youth development and invest in prevention, and our community leaders understand this. 

The local health department is also responsible for responding to public health emergencies, whether it is the threat of Ebola, Zika virus, or a flu pandemic. Regardless of whether it happens or not, prevention and planning is a requirement of the local health department as a key partner of state and national public health agencies, and readiness is the key to ultimately being prepared to protect our local communities. Investment in adequate staffing and training is critical to the future health, safety and well-being of our county residents.

We are all partners moving in the same direction, thanks to the incredible leadership and vision of our nonprofit agency leaders and staff with the input of every day citizens.

Yes – you!

What many people may not realize is that planning, discussions, and coordination among dozens of agencies has been taking place for years, with the goal of eliminating duplication of limited resources in our rural county, with an energy and passion dedicated to improving health and quality of life. We have many citizens and members of the public that participate on committees that help bring innovative ideas, suggest solutions, and raise concerns.

There is a great deal of concern about Sullivan County being ranked 61 of 62 counties in New York State for its health outcomes, as there should be. 

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute have highlighted nationwide the importance of public health with these annual reports. That is a good thing. Many people and leaders are asking, “What is it going to take to improve our health rankings?” What do we need to do to change this?  We have been and should continue look to what other counties are doing to improve their health outcomes.

We need to continue to look at evidence based research, policies and programs that are making a difference across the state and nation to improve health.

The bottom line is that we need to invest in and sometimes make some tough decisions about the things that will improve health. This includes investing more resources in public health prevention and infrastructure when disease and death due to various indicators are impacting our communities. This includes mental health and substance abuse, chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, and the health of our most vulnerable citizens:  women, children and seniors. Education, employment, housing, child care, transportation, and an affordable living wage are intimately tied to better health outcomes.

“Up to half of all premature (or early) deaths in the United States are due to behavioral and other preventable factors—including modifiable habits such as tobacco use, poor diet, and lack of exercise, according to studies reviewed in a new National Research Council and Institute of Medicine report.”1

“While there has been progress in reducing early deaths in the United States from certain causes, such as tobacco and alcohol use, those gains are being erased by increases in deaths linked to other factors, such as poor diet and lack of physical activity.” ²

We all need to understand that improving our health takes years of investment in our public health infrastructure, which includes every agency, every community and every citizen from the grassroots level getting involved in making simple as well as more complex policy changes. From encouraging individual personal lifestyle changes in behavior, making it easier to make better choices, to investing in the development of communities to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens are cared for, to creating an overall culture that makes “Health in All Policies” a norm.  Improving our health rankings is going to take everyone working together to meet the goal of doing our part in making Sullivan County healthier and participating in making us all “The Healthiest Nation in One Generation.”

The business and private sector as well as our government leadership in Sullivan County needs to continue investing energy and resources that will improve these factors order to ultimately improve our health rankings in the long run. Ultimately, every one of us need to be involved in the solution.

Now I am going to have a healthy salad and take a ten-minute walk. 

See you next week.

¹ National Research Council (NRC) and Institute of Medicine, Measuring the Risks and Causes of Premature Death: Summary of Workshops, H.G. Rhodes, rapporteur, Committee on Population, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education and Board on Health Care Services, Institute of Medicine (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2015). The report is based on two workshops organized by the National Institute on Aging. Note: The NRC report describes how researchers have calculated premature deaths using different definitions. “Michael McGinnis’ initial work focused on deaths prior to age 75, but later work has focused on deaths before age 80. The World Health Organization’s Global Burden of Disease compares years of life lost against a reference age of 86, or the highest average lifespan of a country with a population over 5 million. Other studies have focused on survival to age 70.”

² Population Research Bureau (2016). Retrieved from

Bill Liblick has made a name for himself on National TV Talk Shows where he spouted his outspoken views from the front row. Now he offers you his opinion every week in the “MOUTH THAT ROARS” Column in THE SULLIVAN COUNTY POST.

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