Sullivan County maintained its unflattering designation as the second-unhealthiest county in the state in a new round of rankings, but county officials on Wednesday touted underlying factors of the ranking that indicate the foundation is there for improvement.
Since the inception of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps in 2010, Sullivan has placed 61st in the state each year, ahead of only the Bronx.
Orange County ranked 21st and Ulster County 28th.
Sullivan County Manager Joshua Potosek called Wednesday an exciting day during a news conference at the Government Center in Monticello.
"It’s not important where we are at a point in time, but where we are surely headed in the future," Potosek said. "Because of all the initiatives that have been put in place and the organizations and people that are working on improving the health of Sullivan County, our health rankings will improve.”
He cited employee wellness initiatives, increased public outreach, raising the age to purchase tobacco products to 21 and partnerships with health-care and community organizations as reasons for optimism.
Sullivan County Public Health Director Nancy McGraw noted that while the county's ranking stayed the same, the health factors the ranking draws from jumped from 58th in 2017 to 47th.
The report, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, analyzes nearly every county in the country using health factors including high school graduation rates, obesity, smoking, unemployment, access to healthy foods, environmental qualities, income inequality and teen births.
"We are moving in the right direction,” but it will take years of investments to see that progress realized, McGraw said.
Wednesday's news conference featured remarks by several community leaders, including Jonathan Schiller, CEO of Catskill Regional Medical Center, and Sandi Rowland, executive director of Sullivan 180.
Schiller described the hospital's efforts to improve the health of residents, including a $10 million primary and urgent care center that opened last year and now receives more than 1,000 patients per month.
"As everybody has said, this is a marathon, not a sprint. We’re happy to do our part and proud to be part of this collaborative effort in our county," he said.
Sullivan 180 is a new nonprofit organization dedicated to turning around the health and wellness of the county and ultimately improving its ranking.
“I think the most important thing we can do to turn around our health indicators is to work together towards a more common goal of a healthy and vibrant Sullivan County," Rowland said. "I believe we do have all the right ingredients, the partnerships, the will and the commitment to make it happen."