With state and federal support in question and Ulster County facing an obesity epidemic, the county health department has its challenges. At a meeting of nearly 100 health professionals entitled “A New Era of Prevention: Assess, Plan and Connect for a Healthier Ulster County” at SUNY Ulster on May 21, Dr. Carol Smith, Ulster’s commissioner of both health and mental health, said her department remained committed to the goal of making Ulster County the healthiest county in the state, as promised by County Executive Michael Hein in 2009.
Education in the schools and workplaces is key to creating “a culture of health and wellness,” she said. The goal is long-term and aspirational: “We may not change everyone in the current generation, but it’s important and achievable for the future.”
In his introductory remarks, Hein applauded the county’s emerging network of rail trails as not only an economic development tool but also as “a huge public-health initiative.” It provides the opportunity to get out and recreate, which will have an impact on obesity and gives inner-city youth access to nature, he said. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has committed $2 million to the trail network, which is already “65 percent built out.” It will eventually connect the Ashokan Reservoir to the Walkway Over the Hudson, the Hurley rail-trail and the Kingston waterfront.
Hein alluded to the planned closing of one of HealthAlliance’s hospitals. “The building is immaterial” to ensuring the quality of health care in the county, he said. Ulster County benefits from access to high-quality care in Albany and New York City.
Smith was appointed commissioner in April 2012. She is a medical internist who holds a master’s degree in public health and has resided in Ulster County for 20 years.
The state health department is requiring county health departments to collaborate with hospitals in preparing community health implementation plans to address county needs through 2017. The plans must be submitted to the state in November.
The state agenda focuses on five areas: preventing chronic diseases: promoting a safe and healthy environment; promoting better health for women, children, and infants; preventing HIV and other infectious diseases; and promoting mental health, including prevention of substance abuse.
Ulster County is focusing on two areas, preventing chronic diseases and promoting mental health. Heart disease, cancer and lung disease are the leading causes of death in Ulster County. (Heart disease is number one for women, followed by cancer and lung disease, while cancer is number one for men, followed by heart disease and lung disease.)