State Health Commissioner Toured North Country and Met with Frontline Health Care Workers to Discuss Regional Health Delivery System

The two-day trip covered over 534 miles of New York's northernmost region, with focus on understanding the region's unique health challenges

Photos of the Commissioner's visit can be found HERE

ALBANY, N.Y. (October 21, 2022) – New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett completed a two-day, seven-county tour of communities in the North Country, where she met hospital leadership, healthcare workers, behavioral health and substance abuse providers, regional conveners, as well as long-term care, public health, and primary care leaders, who make up the region's frontline health workers. The visit to the North Country was the latest in a series of tours the Commissioner has made as she travels the state to engage the state's health delivery system and discuss local challenges.

"It's difficult to deny the breathtaking beauty of New York's North Country, but it's also obvious that we face challenges in strengthening the region's health system and making sure everyone has equitable access to high-quality and afford health care," State Commissioner of Health Dr. Mary T. Bassett said. "By focusing on opportunities to collaborate with regional health care providers and institutions of higher education, the Department is prepared to do its part to help to build pipelines of qualified workers and bring the next generation of medical professionals to this beautiful area of New York State."

The Commissioner often heard at stops throughout the North Country about the unique challenges of creating a strong health system in a sprawling rural region. Efforts to recruit and retain the health workforce, lack of affordable housing, problems with transportation, and even the limitations of cellular phone coverage and broadband access are issues facing the North Country.

Commissioner Bassett was accompanied by the Department's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Eugene Heslin, who has been with the Department since 2017, and was appointed to Commissioner Bassett's leadership cabinet in July as part of the Commissioner's initiative to enhance the Department's talent, workflow and collaboration, the integration of new systems, and increase diversity as part of its overall mission to build a healthier, more equitable New York. Dr. Heslin's many years of clinical experience and practice management, combined with an expertise in health information technology and data analytics, have allowed him to achieve top performance metrics and outcomes, as well as optimization of value-based payments through the development of consumer-centric population health programs.

"I want to thank Commissioner Bassett for her leadership and dedication to prioritizing the health needs of all New Yorkers and working to establish the infrastructure needed to meet those needs," State Health Department Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eugene Heslin said. "I'm proud to work side-by-side with the Commissioner as we continue to build our organizational focus and prioritize our delivery systems to improve health access across the State, including unique rural challenges."

Under Governor Kathy Hochul's leadership, the Department of Health has also worked to improve health care in New York State through robust investments in the workforce and health infrastructure. In April, the enacted Fiscal Year 2023 budget included a historic $20 billion multi-year health investment. In October, Governor Hochul also announced pay increases for nursing positions to benefit approximately 6,500 New York State staff in 15 state agencies.

During each stop of the tour, Commissioner Basset met with individuals who dedicate their lives each day to the health and wellbeing of the people in their community. She met with administrators and front-line staff at local hospitals, behavioral health and primary care providers, nursing home providers and representatives from local health departments.

While these conversations touched all facets of the North Country's health delivery system, she consistently heard a theme of resiliency, local innovations to recruit and retain local health workers through partnerships with local colleges and universities, and how local hospitals and behavioral health and primary care providers are partnering together to address not just immediate health needs but also ways in which they are tackling social determinants of health such as housing and food insecurity. She also heard consistent messages about the mounting pressures of providing quality healthcare to an aging population.

The Commissioner's trip took her across more than 534 miles of New York in two days, including:

  • Glens Falls: Adirondack Health Institute and Glens Falls Hospital
  • Potsdam: St. Lawrence Health Systems
  • Malone: Citizens Advocates Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic
  • Saranac Lake: Adirondack Health and St. Joseph's (Addiction Treatment & Recovery Centers
  • Lake Placid:Olympic Regional Development Authority and New York State World University Games Commission
  • Plattsburgh: Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital
  • Elizabethtown: North Country Local Public Health Departments (Essex County, Franklin County, Clinton County, Hamilton County)
  • Hudson Falls: Fort Hudson Health System
  • Queensbury: Hudson Headwaters Health Network

These stops are the latest in a series of visits for the Commissioner this year. Over the summer, Dr. Bassett spent a day at the Great New York State Fair for a tour of the many health-related exhibits and to highlight the importance of fresh, local food. In September, she visited the Southern Tier to celebrate the New York State Veterans Home's 125 anniversary in Oxford. Later that month, she toured Binghamton University Health Sciences Campus in Johnson City. There, she got a first-hand look at Decker College's state-of-the-art Innovative Simulation and Practice Center. This is in addition to recent trips to Buffalo, Rochester, and the Hudson Valley.