Health care wins one, loses one in the North Country

Photo: Ben Stone, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Photo: Ben Stone, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Updated, 3:00, to reflect conversation with SUNY Potsdam’s program coordinator for the MS program in community health.

One of the things that’s interesting about rural life is that everyone you know has the same doctor. Here in the Canton-Potsdam area, we’re blessed with quite a number of doctors, but even so, I share one with several of my coworkers, friends, and my hairstylist. And while that’s nice in some ways, it’s also indicative of a problem with health care in our area: a real shortage of health care providers.

That’s why it could be a real boon to the area that SUNY Potsdam has announced it’s starting a new Master of Science program in community health.

The program’s not training health care practitioners themselves: According to Dr. Kelly Bonnar, an associate professor in Potsdam’s Department of Community Health and the coordinator of the program, it will train people to run health care organizations and make health care policy that’s particularly sensitive to the needs of rural areas like ours, which Bonnar describes as “medically underserved.”

According to Potsdam’s press release (linked above), students will do a lot of field projects and internships. And the program’s focus on rural health means they’ll be well-placed to work in our area and others with similar issues: “This program will help students interested in promoting health at the community level navigate current issues in rural health, such as the impact of healthcare reform on rural health disparities.”

It’s now accepting applications for next year. Bonnar says the program could have a big impact — but not just in our area: “We initially developed the degree because we needed people in this area. We’re one of the few programs in the country that will have a focus on rural health, so we anticipate the need being filled here, and we anticipate nationwide impact as well.”

Meanwhile, the Watertown Daily Times reports that the General Hospital in the village of Copenhagen is losing the main physician in its Copenhagen Family Health Center, Dr. R. Brian Shambo (Shambo isn’t going far — he’s moved his practice to nearby Lowville.) The health center is one of Lewis County General Hospital’s several satellite clinics, one of the aims of which is to give people the chance to see a doctor or get blood drawn without a long, arduous drive.

Another doctor, Daniel Pisaniello, is taking over on a very part-time basis until the hospital can recruit someone new for that clinic. That presumably means he’ll be taking time away from his own practice at the hospital’s South Lewis Center (he’s not the only doctor at that center so it can remain open.)

Lowville is only 15 minutes from Copenhagen, so why does this matter? It’s not an emergency room like Lake Placid’s (whose board of trustees voted in July to make it part-time) , but ultimately, it matters because this is the North Country, it’s winter, and even in less snowbound times of year having to drive a distance to get healthcare is something of a hazard, because it might mean people don’t go. So let’s hope Copenhagen finds someone new, soon.



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1 Comment on “Health care wins one, loses one in the North Country”

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  1. Pete Klein says:

    One of the advantages to health care in the North Country is not having to wait as long to see a doctor as you do in trying to see one in a major city.
    Also up here, you tend to be a person instead of a number.

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