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Capital Region Mayors Discuss Community Health During The Pandemic

Lincoln Park in the City of Albany
Jesse King
Lincoln Park in the City of Albany

Capital Region mayors discussed the future of community health at a forum this week hosted by the Alliance for Better Health.

Wednesday’s forum asked panelists three main questions: What are the social needs during the pandemic? How do we achieve health equity? And what does a healthy community look like?

Among the panelists who represented charitable organizations, insurance companies, and healthcare, were the Democratic mayors of Albany, Schenectady, and Troy.

Troy Mayor Patrick Madden said the community has experienced problems not unique to the Collar City during the pandemic: a sharp increase in gun crime and domestic violence, hunger, and struggling families unable to pay rent.   

“And importantly there’s no end in sight.”

Statistics consistently show minority populations have been more sharply affected by COVID-19 and its associated economic downturn.

With parents caring for children at home during remote learning, Madden said kids have lost structure in their daily lives, as well as regular nutrition normally provided at school.

“And it’s not readily replaced at home in all situations. So we see them out on the streets late into the night, and that’s risky behavior and we’ve had some devastating consequences as a result of that in the City of Troy,” said Madden.

Troy has experienced more than a dozen homicides in 2020, including the drive-by shooting death of 11-year-old Ayshawn Davis.

Madden also continued his call Wednesday for flexible federal relief aid as Congress remains deadlocked.

“We need federal funding. We need relief from the federal government to support the organizations that are supporting people with rent, with food, with alternatives that can provide structure in children’s lives.”

But one of the easiest things the federal government can do, says Madden, is have a coherent, clear message on the realities of the pandemic.

As municipalities brainstorm ways to better existing services strained by the pandemic, Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy says one way to do that is to examine how emergency departments respond to calls.

McCarthy says Schenectady’s paramedic program, though the fire department, responds to 12,000 calls a year. But not every call requires someone to be brought to an emergency room in an ambulance.

“What we’re looking at with some partners including MVP, the county department of social services, other medical providers within the community is…how we do we have the paramedics spend more time on the initial call? Better understand what is needed using telemedicine? Do some diagnositics at a more advanced level in the field, then redirect the patient to a more appropriate level of care,” said McCarthy.

McCarthy says prevention is especially important.

“Get people to eat a little bit healthier, to exercise a little bit more, and working in those confines, you’re going to reduce costs, improve outcomes…”

When envisioning what a healthy community looks like, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan said solving issues relating to housing and homelessness can be a significant factor in improving community health.

But unlike programs like SNAP or Medicare, where services are provided to anyone eligible, housing is different.

“And that is a policy where even though you qualify for housing, we don’t provide enough funding to provide everyone with housing,” said Sheehan.

Sheehan said solving issues like housing may require local governments to rethink the way they deliver services.

“And so I think we focus on finding the buckets of money instead of stepping back and saying, ‘Why are we doing what we’re doing? What resulted in this policy being created this way? And how can we look at the beaurucreatic and institutional inertia that oftentimes gets in the way of real, transformational change?” said Sheehan.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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