Orange County Health Department Marks 50th Year of Service

GOSHEN – Orange County’s Health Department is celebrating its 50th year of service to residents.

During that time, the Health Department has carried out a wide range of public health functions including health education, communicable disease monitoring and response, nursing care for the homebound, immunization clinics, food service and other health-related inspections, regulation of public and community water supplies, subdivision plan reviews, regulation of facilities such as children’s and migrant labor camps, community swimming facilities, and has provided hands-on community outreach to at risk populations.

“The mission of the Health Department, which is to protect residents and keep them safe, has been a critical component Orange County government for the past 50 years,” Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus said. “The Health Department has had a profound impact on the community’s quality of life and that continues under the leadership of Commissioner Dr. Irina Gelman and her team. The staff of the Health Department has always served with excellence and distinction; I’m proud of the work that these men and women conduct every day.”

Health Commissioner Dr. Irina Gelman.
Health Commissioner Dr. Irina Gelman.

Currently there are 127 employees in the Health Department which includes the Divisions of; Public Health Nursing, Environmental Health, Community Health Outreach, Intervention Services and the Medical Examiner’s Office.

In 1968, the now defunct Orange County Board of Supervisors voted to create a Department of Health. The responsibility for delivering public health services was previously overseen by a “district” office of the State Department of Health, a County nursing unit, small Health Departments in each of the County’s three cities, and locally appointed Health Officers in the County’s towns and villages.

The first organizational units of the County’s Health Department were the Nursing and Environmental Health Divisions, In April of 1969, the County was licensed to provide bedside care throughout the County for homebound patients. Two years later, what had been the “Middletown District Office” of the State Health Department moved into the office space at the “old County Building” at 124 Main Street in Goshen. The pioneers of the county-run Department of Health were Mathias Schleifer P.E. with the Environmental Health Division and Shirley Vanzetta, RN with the Nursing Division. Both were highly respected individuals who worked for over 30 years in the Department with Mr. Schleifer putting in more than 40 with the county.

Some of the many highlights of the Health Department during the last 50 years include:

* The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program became a new unit of the Nursing Division in 1979. WIC provides nutrition assistance to eligible pregnant women, mothers and young children.

In the early-1990s, the Community Health Outreach (CHO) Division was created which helped to promote public health education with the introduction of initiatives aimed at helping residents live a healthy lifestyle through awareness and education. Some initiatives include Lyme Disease awareness, tobacco use (particularly among adolescents) and home counseling visits to families in high risk neighborhoods on nutrition. Additionally, this was also the start of the counties very robust Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, which continues today.

* In 1989 the county started operating the Early Intervention Service Division. This unit provides education and training services (such as speech and physical therapy) to children with developmental disabilities from birth to age three. Administration of the Pre-Kindergarten Special Education (Pre-K) program was transferred to the Department in 1993.

* A Public Health Emergency Preparedness Unit was created in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and subsequent anthrax attacks in 2001.

* A Medical Examiner’s Office was created in 2007 to investigate suspicious and unnatural deaths in order to officially determine cause and manner of death.

“Orange County and the Department of Health have grown tremendously since it was first established in 1969,” Gelman said. “With over 2,000 permits issued for food services, children’s camps and hotels by our Environmental Health Division and over 5,000 children receiving services in our Intervention Services Division in 2018, it is obvious that the needs of public health continue and we must strive to meet them.”

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