State law re-establishes rural health council

State Assemblyman Billy Jones (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

The governor signed a health care bill written by Assemblyman Billy Jones into law on Wednesday, re-establishing the rural health council, which advises the state health commissioner.

The law makes the council mandatory and takes place immediately.

The council was established in 1988 but, according to Jones, has been essentially defunct as of late, not taking much action due to changes in the state health care system and the unique challenges of rural health care.

With medical centers and professionals spread sparsely throughout the Adirondacks, needs such as transportation, home care for aging in place and recruitment are difficult to fulfill.

“We operate on very small margins, so even seemingly minor regulatory or legislative changes can significantly impact our bottom line and ability to provide the services our patients expect and deserve,” said Matt Scollin, director of communication at Adirondack Health, which provides hospitals, clinics and a nursing home in the Tri-Lakes area.

Jones said extra care needs to be put in place to overcome these hurdles and keep residents of the North Country healthy. The council, with a new focus, is tasked with raising New York’s health commissioner’s awareness of those hurdles.

The council will be composed of 21 members from rural areas in New York who will be appointed by the Senate, Assembly and governor.

Five will be appointed by the temporary Senate president, two by the Senate minority leader, five by the Assembly speaker, two by the Assembly minority leader and seven by the governor. Scollin said that although the council members will be appointed from the state level, Adirondack Health feels there are quality stipulations for appointment in place.

“I think we stand a far better chance with seats at the table reserved specifically for rural health care representatives,” Scollin said. “Adirondack Health enjoys close and developed relationships with our elected leaders at the local, state and federal levels — but certainly, the greater the number of avenues available to make our voice heard, the better.”

The council will advise the commissioner, annually submit a report to the Regional Economic Development Councils on the status of the health care workforce supply in their regions, and gather at least twice a year in meetings that will be made available to the public via live webcast.