By Jennifer L. Warren
POUGHKEEPSIE – No matter how old they are, where they live, what they do or where they come from, Dr. Livia Santiago-Rosado wants people to know one, overriding priority.
“It’s your health department,” said the recently appointed Commissioner of Dutchess County Behavioral and Community Health who resides in LaGrange. The multi-dimensional, far-reaching position will entail the veteran doctor Santiago-Rosado to assess and protect the community from health risks, ensure access to high quality services, promote holistic care, all while overseeing a Department who hails 200 employees and managing an annual budget of approximately 79 million dollars.
Presently a Chairperson and Medical Director at the Emergency Medicine at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie, Santiago-Rosado’s long-standing history of physician work with several, area hospitals, chiefly centers upon diagnosing and treating patients with life-threatening conditions. When she was appointed as the Commissioner in the third week of December last year, she anticipated the first few weeks to be a time of adjustment to and simply learning her responsibilities. Then, Omicron hit.
“I was pretty limited in what I could learn due to Omicron and how much time was devoted to it,” said Santiago-Rosado. “I had to do a lot with people in congregate settings in order to reduce the transmissions.”
Flash forward two months later, with the Omicron variant finally losing momentum and some sense of “normalcy” returning, Santiago- Rosado is excited to tackle the challenging responsibilities and exciting opportunities that her Commissioner role presents.
“Now, I’m finally in a place to start learning about the broad range of activities and programs we offer,” said Santiago-Rosado. “I see my role as trying to make sure we are as impactful as possible, and the best way to do that is to utilize and be responsive with the data we have so we can determine what the needs of the community are.”
Santiago-Rosado is quick to cite that what is expected of healthcare is quickly evolving. As technology advances and times evolve, so too healthcare needs to respond. The Pandemic has made that reality even sharper.
“Covid has really highlighted some of the challenges out there; sometimes the public needs are at odds with the individual ones,” explained Santiago- Rosado who brings community outreach experience to her new role. “People have become less trusting of medicine and public health care, so we need to figure out in what ways we can gain that trust back; I would love to see the community help us solve that issue, so we can address the gaps.”
For Santiago-Rosado the answer lies mainly in developing critical relationships, ones that foster that reduced, sometimes elusive trust, while empowering the community to have a genuine understanding of, as well as, real voice when it comes to their healthcare.
“Sometimes it’s just about making those connections; the resources are out there, and a lot of times we need to find smart ways for people to use them,” said Santiago-Rosado.
“It’s also about really understanding the community you are serving.”
One way Santiago-Rosado has already been forging those bonds is through language. Fluent in Spanish, Santiago-Rosado sees that channel as vital in connecting with the community. Witnessing first-hand the potency of her own translating efforts for residents in various venues, Santiago- Rosado is hoping the Omicron videos used by her hospital can also be done in Spanish versions. Her inclusion vision extends much further than language and ethnicity.
“I see racism as a public health issue, and really want to make sure all people feel connected with us; we can learn so much from each other,” said Santiago-Rosado. “I want it to be a discussion; I can offer some information, but I also really want to learn from others.” Reflecting further about the potential impact of her new role, the long-time health care provider Santiago- Rosado added, “Generating relationships, ones where everyone feels included, is really what it’s all about.”