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October 20, 2014
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Bleak Sullivan healthcare landscape discussed; poverty aggravates bad health


In recent weeks, county legislator Kathy LaBuda has reminded the people who attend meetings at the government center that Sullivan County is the “second poorest county in the state.” At a community health improvement forum at the Ted Stroeble Community Center in Monticello on October 4, Carol Ryan, director of public health, reminded people that the same goes for health outcomes, where Sullivan is the second poorest in the state.

As she has done in the past, Ryan used information from the award-winning series “Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?” to make the point that health and wealth are closely related and that, among rich nations, the U.S. does a pretty bad job of keeping its population healthy.

One factoid from the series states, “We already spend $2 trillion a year to patch up our bodies, more than twice per person than the average rich country spends, and our health care system is strained to the breaking point; yet our life expectancy is 29th in the world, infant mortality 30th, and lost productivity due to illness costs businesses more than $1 trillion a year.”

Ryan said in the four years since the series first aired, the figures have become even worse. But getting down to specifics for Sullivan, according to information on www.countyhealthrankings.org., the county has a very high number of years of life lost by residents who die before age 75. For the county, the figure is 8,761 years lost per 100,000 residents; for the state, it’s 5,812; and the national benchmark is 5,466.

After laying out the gloomy picture, Ryan said there are steps that communities can take to make the health picture better. To the more than 100 people on hand, she said the purpose of the forum is “to allow people to come here and see some of the agencies that support health and connect to them, to network with one another, to share information about the county’s health, to start a wider conversation, to get public input and, hopefully, to get the public engaged in starting to improve the county’s health.”

There followed a wide ranging discussion of the health challenges facing county residents. Two challenges stood out among the many that were discussed. One was transportation, especially in the outlying towns, where low-income people had trouble getting to stores that would accept their Woman Infant and Children vouchers for supplemental food, because some low-income residents don’t have cars, and even those who do can’t afford the $4.10 per gallon price of gas. Additionally, not all towns in the county have stores that accept the vouchers.

Another challenge that was indentified was a lack of broadband Internet access in some of the outlying towns. Many of the agencies that provide health services can be located on the Internet, but identifying them and connecting with them is difficult for low-income residents without broadband access.