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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July 14th, 2017

Nancy McGraw: Talking About Sullivan County’s Seriously About Our Health Rankings

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 two weeks she will be using this forum to begin a dialogue to make us healthier.


What’s Behind Those Rankings?

By Nancy McGraw 

Sullivan County Public Health Director

The Robert Wood Johnson’s County Health Rankings has been in the news a lot lately and on the minds of many every day citizens and community leaders. It is not news to those of us who work in the public health field. Public health nurses and educators have been working tirelessly since 1941to be exact, when Sullivan County Public Health Nursing (now Sullivan County Public Health Services), was first founded, to help people improve their health by encouraging them to become more educated about changing lifestyle behaviors that contribute to poor health and to engage in preventive screenings and to seek early treatment for health problems.  More than 75 years ago, people were suffering from polio and tuberculosis in large numbers, and public health nurses and community leaders embarked on a focused plan in order to improve population health outcomes.

In modern times communities face concerns in such areas as poor nutrition, sedentary lifestyles, substance abuse, smoking, limited access to early prenatal care, texting and cell phone use while driving, and unprotected sex as population health challenges.  STD rates in Sullivan County are fairly high in comparison to other counties, with 259 cases of chlamydia reported in 2014. Additional efforts to provide preventive education and access to condoms are needed. As a community, we cannot pretend that “Just say no” works – we learned that it did not work decades ago. Now, we are facing increasing numbers of individuals using heroin which may also lead to an increased risk of Hepatitis C and HIV infection.  There’s no denying these dangers now that the opioid epidemic is front and center.  Parents, school officials, educators and community members need to be part of the solution and be willing to have some difficult conversations.

Prevention and education is something that nurses and educators promote every day throughout Sullivan County. The increased focus on the county health rankings of Sullivan County as being 61 out of 62 counties next to the Bronx in New York State for poor health outcomes is an opportunity. Yes, an opportunity- to change the conversation.

It is an opportunity that many leaders and organizations are taking seriously, but what does it mean? It means that more resources must be invested in supporting policies and environmental changes that promote health.  It means that greater collaboration is taking place on the prevention side to help communities, organizations and businesses understand that we can collectively tackle these issues to improve quality of life for everyone.

As you look deeper into what these health statistics really mean, you will discover that there are specific areas that are improving over time, and that what we all need to focus on is not just the end resulting ranking of 61, but to focus on investing in proven strategies that have been shown to work to get these health outcomes moving in the right direction. A “Health means business” campaign was recently featured at a Chamber breakfast by Catskill Regional Medical Center and is one example of raising awareness of how the business sector can be involved in promoting health.  By striving to create a healthier current and future workforce, this county will be more competitive and have a vibrant economic future – a place in which we work, live and play that we can all be proud of because it promotes a Culture of Health.

One of the factors driving poor health outcomes is the premature death rate. Our residents are dying at younger ages from heart disease, diabetes, cancer, drug abuse, chronic lower respiratory disease and stroke. This is not any different from countless other communities across the country.  But rural communities tend to face greater obstacles in addressing these problems. These obstacles include poverty, greater barriers to accessing health care and preventive medicine, lack of transportation, and social isolation. Sullivan County’s death rate due to drug overdoses is the highest in New York State. That must change, and soon. Work is being done by many community leaders to improve access to substance abuse treatment services for residents.

We need to invest heavily in the development and support of our younger generations so that they feel supported, connected and hopeful. This is already being done, with more investment in youth programs by the county Youth Bureau, legislature, and by many other organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club and Bethel Woods, who is investing in the creative arts and offering low cost or free programming for kids to become engaged. And many of our school districts are becoming more engaged in understanding the importance of youth development, supporting non-traditional after school programs, and developing talents in technical skills and the creative arts. As a community we can and should do more to come together around this issue. Youth mentoring programs can be started in any small community with little to no cost.

The county has suffered at least a decade of recession with a slower growth in recovery than surrounding counties. This is not unusual for a large rural community. As research has shown, recovery is often slower in these parts of the U.S.  However, unemployment rates are down, job growth is looking up, and there is an improved economic outlook for individuals and families. High school graduation rates are slowly starting to climb, which is one social determinant of better health outcomes.

The message we all need to hear and believe, is that we can and are making a difference already in improving health outcomes.   

More from Nancy Next Week

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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