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Despite contending with immediate concerns associated with the swine flu outbreak, the Nassau County Department of Health's special meeting April 27 was held as planned. A variety of topics were covered, including budget cuts that affect health care, the need for additional healthcare education, teenage pregnancy and the decline in skilled nurses.

"We hold meetings like this to gather information from the community to help us better plan our 2010-2013 Community Health Assessment (CHA), which is required by New York State," said Norma J. Henriksen, chair of the Nassau County Board of Health.

The CHA is a document that reflects the collaboration of community partners, including hospitals, community-based organizations, nonprofits and residents. The CHA reflects this community collaboration and identifies two to three priorities; data is used to set public health priorities, inform communities, request resources and plan actions toward a healthier Nassau for 2010-2013.

Before the meeting officially got under way, Maria Torroella, MD, FACP, commissioner of health secretary to the Nassau Board of Health, briefed the attendees on the swine flu outbreak in Nassau County. "We are asking our citizens to take precautions, such as wash your hands often, and if you have flu-like symptoms, see your doctor and avoid being out in public. Wear a mask if you are a health care worker." (See update on page 3.)

Out of the 15 in attendance, the majority were representatives of health care groups, hospitals, and health organizations. One of the overriding concerns voiced at the meeting was the deep budget cuts that are and will continue to affect health care. A representative from the Long Island Visiting Nurse Association told the board that senior centers are especially concerned about cuts that might decrease or eliminate Meals on Wheels, stating that "they're very scared [and] don't know how they will get their meals."

Increased fundraising was one of the solutions put forth to soften the blow of budget cuts. Nassau County Legislator Judy Jacobs, a representative for community relations for North Shore Long Island Jewish, said, "Legislators don't want to cut funds for children and seniors but in this economy we don't want taxes to go up either. Budget funds to healthcare groups are discretionary, not mandatory. We are advising groups to increase their fundraising."

Henrikson, the chair of the board, admitted that fundraising, however, is very difficult in this economic climate.

Affordable health care and health care awareness continue to be problems. "Many of the men in our group do not have health insurance," said Thomas Humphrey, vice president of the Long Island Men's Center. "If the clinics close, they are forced to go to the emergency room to see a physician."

According to Robin Grass, director of community education for South Nassau Communities Hospital, health care awareness continues to be problematic. "Our biggest concern is to reach the underserved," she said. "But people are not coming out. I was at a Freeport church for a healthcare event and only 25 people attended," said Grass. "In this economy, they have other priorities. We're trying to go out to them; we've had a monthly series at our jails to reach them."

Diana Coleman, vice chair of the board, agrees. "There is a disparity that exists in Nassau County between minorities and those with health care. Minorities show a lack of concern in going to the doctor in a timely manner, plus many people are transient. Diseases and other health problems that we thought had been eradicated are showing up, such as AIDS. We have to be more pro-active," said Coleman.

Another growing concern is teenage pregnancy.

Donna Kass, a board member, reported that there are 40 students at a Westbury school who are currently pregnant. "The number of pregnant girls is growing while the age of these girls is getting younger," she said. Many girls, especially those in the Latino and African-American community, consider it a "badge-of-honor" to be pregnant and carry the baby to term in school while taking classes, she said.

The need for skilled nursing, especially those who are bilingual, drew an animated conversation among the attendees. The average age of nurses in the United States is between 40 and 50 years old and students are not going into nursing to replace these skilled laborers. The Spanish population is falling between the cracks, said one attendee; oftentimes a person in maintenance or housekeeping has to be called to help translate. Everyone agreed that there needs to be more recruitment of the Hispanic population to attend college for a nursing degree.

For those wishing to learn more about wellness and health care, Rita Kashi Batheja, an internationally recognized dietitian and certified nutritionist in private practice on Long Island, described an upcoming one-day event called NAVELexpo. This event, which stands for Nutrition Aesthetics Vitality Efficacy Life, will be held Sunday, May 3 at the Hilton Long Island Huntington on 598 Broad Hollow Road, Melville. Batheja will be one of the speakers at the event. For more information, visit www.navelexpo.com.

The Nassau County Board of Health will hold a second special meeting on Friday, May 8 from noon to 2 p.m. The board of health is inviting Nassau County residents to share their thoughts on issues they believe affect their health and well-being. Residents attending the meetings, which will both take place at the department's offices, 106 Charles Lindbergh Boulevard, South Entrance, in Uniondale, should bring a written copy of any comments they wish to make. For residents unable to attend, the board of health will accept written or videotaped comments via email to nchealthdept@nassaucountyny.gov or by mail to the address above. Please note: written comments cannot be longer than 250 words and videotaped comments no longer than three minutes. Residents' testimonies will be valuable for the development of the Community Health Assessment (CHA). CHA data is used to set public health priorities, inform communities, request resources and plan actions toward a healthier Nassau for 2010-2013.

In addition to public meetings, the board is offering another method for the community to tell the board about personal health issues and other health-related issues in a short anonymous online survey. The survey will be available online at www.nassaucountyny.gov/agencies/health through June 8.

For additional information or directions, call the Nassau County Department of Health weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. at 227-9697.


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