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Guest Column: Leslie Danks Burke

“Rural health care solutions”

Leslie Danks Burke is running for New York State Senate in the 58th district, which includes Schuyler, Chemung, Steuben and Yates counties, and part of Tompkins. Her office is at 700 N. Franklin St., Watkins Glen.

WATKINS GLEN, March 24, 2020 -- Long before COVID-19, our rural health care systems were already struggling with the challenge of providing excellent and accessible health care in rural communities.

With the coronavirus pandemic upon us, I remember the words of President John Adams: “Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.” The fact is, we have the opportunity, right now, to address the challenge of rural health care that we have put off for too long. I’m here to identify some solutions.

One problem is that rural communities tend to be lower income and older, and wealthier patients are often willing to travel to urban hospitals farther away, as opposed to local facilities like Ira Davenport in Bath or Schuyler Hospital in Montour Falls. With poor folks in one system and wealthy folks in another, rural hospitals face a perfect storm of economic stress, and the cost of care per patient skyrockets.

Rural communities also have trouble attracting physicians. Urban areas have 31 doctors for every 10,000 residents, while 13 doctors serve every 10,000 rural residents. The shortage of rural doctors is especially high in specialties like psychiatry, yet rural areas face a higher suicide rate; a devastating opioid epidemic; and New York State’s deep cuts to mental health services.

And now we have a viral pandemic. So while we all do our part to “flatten the curve,” let’s also use this moment to solve problems. Here are some of our opportunities:

More Nurses: The two SUNY community colleges in our district, Tompkins Cortland (TC3) and Corning (CCC), provide excellent nursing programs. Elmira College (now partnering with LECOM to accept medical students) and Keuka College serve additional nursing students.
Instead of reneging on its promised funding as it does each year, New York could send the support that is promised, and make a real difference in filling gaping nursing shortages. We could also temporarily address licensing requirements, so nursing students under a nurse’s direction could work professionally during this crisis.

Paid Sick Leave: Governor Cuomo proposed paid sick leave in January as part of his budget. Then when COVID-19 hit, he got it passed as a stand-alone bill for all public and private sector workers forced into precautionary or mandatory quarantine. The public health benefits of paid sick leave are glaringly obvious in a pandemic: We cut costs when sick people don’t come into work and infect everyone else, and the paid leave helps keep hospitals from getting over-crowded. Those benefits will still be there when there’s no pandemic, and funding broader paid sick leave would save future costs.

Cut Taxes, Get Rid of Medicaid-for-Profit, and Move to Universal Care: Our property taxes are sky-high. Unlike every other state, around half of our property taxes go to pay for Medicaid, and also unlike many states, big corporations make a profit off Medicaid in New York, with a chunk of our property taxes going to corporate managed care contractors.
Like President Adams said, here’s an opportunity to solve a problem staring us in the face. We could whack our property taxes and get rid of Medicaid-for-profit overnight, getting single-payer universal health care to the one-in-three New Yorkers currently on Medicaid, and getting us one giant step closer to passing the New York Health Act -- all by cutting out the flow of our tax dollars to private corporations.

Our nurses, lab technicians, EMTs, doctors, and other health workers are working hard and heroically on the front line in this pandemic. We help them -- so they can help us -- by washing our hands, staying out of groups, and following other public health directives to flatten the curve and stave off an overwhelming spike in patients. Getting resources to our rural hospitals and health care providers -- again, so they can help us -- is the right and cost-saving thing to do.

Each of us who live in and love this beautiful part of the world must be attentive to this need. As citizens, it is time for us to thank them by standing up to support and advocate for rural health care.

Photo: Leslie Danks Burke

Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Carl Blowers, Jim Howell, Michael Lausell, Van Harp

Bottom row: Gary Gray, David Reed, Phil Barnes, Mark Rondinaro


Legislature Chairman

Carl Blowers, 535-6174 or 237-5469

Legislature Members:

Gary Gray, 292-9922

Van Harp, 329-2160

Jim Howell, 535-7266 or 227-1141

David M. Reed, 796-9558

Michael Lausell, 227- 9226

Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen, 481-0482

Mark Rondinaro, 398-0648

County Clerk: Theresa Philbin, 535-8133

Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222

Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222

County Treasurer: Holley Sokolowski, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383


State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address:

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451

State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano-- Steuben, Schuyler, Yates
Room 723, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-5791


© The Odessa File 2017
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869