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Celebrating 125 years of health care

Pictured from left to right are: at front, Suzanne Snezik, Carol Urquhart, Karen Wolff, Dei Laubach, Rosanne Brogan, Brenda Reeve, Dave Johnson and Peggy Wiltberger; at back, Cole Campbell, George Cook, Craig Stevens, Rich Loeber, Mark Simkins, Robert White, Wayne Newman, Roger Neill and Willie Sheridan. Missing are Jamie Whidden and Patty Monroe. (Photo provided)

On May 11, the Saranac Lake Health Association, which was formerly the Saranac Lake Voluntary Health Association, held its annual meeting and began celebrating its 125th anniversary of providing health related services to Saranac Lake residents. Since its inception, the SLHA has served thousands of local residents.

As one of the oldest institutions in Saranac Lake, SLHA began in 1897 as the District Nurse Association by providing home nursing for TB patients. In 1907, the first chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Tuberculosis was formed in Saranac Lake — headed by Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau — and the District Nurse Association was absorbed into the new program. In addition to providing nurses, the TB Society loaned items like fur coats and cure-chairs, and maintained a registry to coordinate patients, physicians and cure cottages.

The TB Society provided Saranac Lake’s first ambulance in 1907, a horse-drawn vehicle purchased secondhand from the Bellevue Hospital. They continued to supply the village with ambulances until 1970. With the advent of antibiotic therapy for tuberculosis, the days of curing in the healing air of the Adirondacks faded. But the Saranac Lake TB Society remained active.

In 1972, the National TB Society was reorganizing and planned to merge all the chapters in northern New York. However, as funds had been bequeathed to the local TB Society to provide health care services to Saranac Lake residents, the decision was made to separate from the National TB Society and it changed its name to the Saranac Lake (Voluntary) Health Association.

Despite its 125 years of service, the SLHA remains an organization unfamiliar to many. So it is embarking on a rebranding effort with a simplified name, a new logo and signage. Going forward, the hope is to expand the outreach to those who need its services and to donors who can support this mission.

The SLHA is a life-changing resource for those who need it; providing free professional nursing, a school dental hygienist, and audiological and dental aid to those who would otherwise fall through the gaps in the health care system.

The home nursing program provides skilled nursing care for the elderly and chronically ill who otherwise are not eligible for care through another agency.

SLHA helps our neighbors remain in their community. Without the SLHA, many residents would be forced to move elsewhere to receive the professional health care services they need. Not only does this allow them to remain home, but it keeps them as part of a community that includes their family and friends.

As healthcare can be complicated, SLHA is the community’s helping hand. As a state licensed home care service agency, SLHA works with health care providers and community resources to ensure the care received is that which is needed and makes the process of attaining care easier.

For the last 40 years, SLHA has provided the dental hygienist in the Saranac Lake School District, providing preventative dental care and dental education for our children. Additionally, SLHA can help to meet the cost of dental care and hearing aids. Affordability is often a primary reason that people neglect their dental health. SLHA understands that untreated dental problems can lead to systemic adverse health outcomes, and they extend their hand to help meet the cost for those who qualify.

This year SLHA has decided to memorialize two of its longest serving board members by designating its scholarships in their names: Alice Wareham and William Sweeney. The scholarships are awarded to NCCC students enrolled in their RN or Radiologic Technician programs.

All SLHA services are provided free of charge. And the organization relies on the generous contributions of our neighbors to continue their mission. For more information please contact SLHA at 518-891-0910 or slvha@verizon.net.

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Peggy Wiltberger is the president of the Saranac Lake Health Association Board of Directors. Prior to joining the board, Wiltberger worked as a visiting nurse. She lives in Saranac Lake.

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