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St. Lawrence County Public Health gets a nurse

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CANTON — Despite worries about possible layoffs in the future, St. Lawrence County Public Health gained a nurse with the approval of legislators Monday so that mandated programs can be covered.

The department has lost three nurses whose positions have not been filled from its Preventive division, which covers state-required services, such as early intervention.

Staff in the different divisions of the department can fill in for each other if they have the proper training, but a nurse who works in long-term health would not necessarily be able to cover a program for children with special needs.

The lack of staff has forced the department to discontinue community blood pressure clinics as of Aug. 1 and decrease weekly travel clinics to once a month. It has already canceled one school-immunization clinic.

“We don’t want kids not immunized,” Public Health Director Susan J. Hathaway said.

Legislator Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, asked about other ramifications if the position was not filled.

The department should be immunizing migrant workers, but it is not. It should be going to the offices of doctors who offer immunizations to check on protocol, but it does not have the staff. It should not have to curtail its visits to frail newborns born to drug-addicted teen mothers, Ms. Hathaway said.

“There are 22 mandated programs,” she said. “I have no one to do it. These are the services we need to provide. The state can yell at us all they want and they would.”

Lawmakers have been reluctant to fill positions in Public Health other than in its Certified Home Health Agency because of the uncertainty in the future over whether they will keep the CHHA. Although legislators agreed earlier this year to rebuild the CHHA, they have been keeping a close watch over its activities and patient loads because it is expected to have competition from other CHHAs once they are approved by the state.

Public Health has hired nurses for CHHA, but many are not trained yet to work on their own. There have been other gaps in coverage because of sick leave and vacations.

“I’ve been parceling people around. I really need another Prevent nurse,” Ms. Hathaway said. “I can’t take them out of CHHA because I’ve got all those sick people there.”

Taking nurses from CHHA to staff Prevent programs would also make it harder to take referrals, she said.

If legislators opt for a different outcome for CHHA this fall or if budget constraints require layoffs, nurses who work in that division might want to switch to the Preventive side, leaving some legislators reluctant to hire.

The county would share in the cost of unemployment for anyone who worked for it for even two months, Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said.

Everyone who comes to work for Public Health is told of the uncertainties, Ms. Hathaway said.

“One of the problems is we keep losing nurses,” she said.

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