Former public director devoted more than 30 years to healthcare

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2008 Healthcare Hero
Kathleen A. Smith
Lifetime Achievement

Former director of public health for the Oswego County Health Department, Kathleen Smith is recently retired . "I'll miss the daily contact and networking with people. We had a great and very dedicated staff," she said. "I've made some wonderful friends over the years. You never knew from one day to the next what was going to happen. There was always something new happening."

One of her nominators, Kathryn Caltabiano commented, "As a public health nurse, her life's work has focused on enhancing preventive measures and improving the health of Oswego County resident. Serving in many capacities over the year, she is a highly respected healthcare professional who successfully implemented many changes in our community."

Paul Santore, an Oswego County legislator, echoed Caltabiano's sentiments. "Kathy led the county health department through tough economic times to a high level of excellence," he said. "Her devotion to her job and community benefited us all. She will be sorely missed."

"I think that I came on board as director during a stressful time in the county when we were experiencing layoffs and downsizing of our department," Smith said. "I feel with the assistance of a dedicated staff, I was able to bring the health department back to stability."

Dr. Richard Daines, commissioner of health for the state Health Department, inked a letter to Smith upon the occasion of her retirement. "I understand that in the 30 years you have spent working to improve the health of New Yorkers, beginning as a public health nurse in 1977, serving as the director of patient services and culminating with your five-year tenure as director of public health for Oswego County, you have approached your career with thoughtfulness, creativity and a deep sense of commitment," he wrote. "You have played a vital role in initiating many services in response to growing health concerns and unmet needs, such as the Prenatal Care Assistance Program, bio-terrorism response planning and hospice services. Under your guidance, the Oswego County Health Department has addressed many longstanding health concerns in the areas of immunization, lead assessment and prevention, and early childhood services, to name a few," he added.

Smith considers her foremost accomplishments as being the development and implementation of the Prenatal Care Assistance Program for Oswego County, as well as development of Oswego County Hospice. She improved birth outcomes due to better access to comprehensive prenatal care through PCAP. She also supported the implementation of Horizon Home Care for the Public Health Nursing Service, the first computerized record for home care in the county. "There have been thousands of patients who have been able to stay in their own homes in comfort and safety due to home care and hospice," she said.

She also participated in the county's process to implement Medicaid Managed Care. "I have mentored and supported many nurses who have gone on to receive their degrees and have taken supervisory positions," she noted.

She was affiliated with Integrated Community Planning, Inc. as a board member, and was also a member of numerous boards and committees. She was a member of Gov. George Pataki's Medical Advisory Committee. She went from obtaining her licensed practical nurse status in 1972 to earning a master's degree in health services management in 2002.She said her rise to the top is a learning lesson for others who are starting out on the bottom rung and hoping for a prosperous career.

She was born in 1946 in Oswego. She is married to Terrance, and the couple has two children: Scott Smith and Laurie Davis. "We have some great providers in Oswego County," she said. "I think the best thing about Oswego County is how well agencies and providers work together. You don't see that elsewhere."

Smith said she has no firm plans for her retirement and enjoyed a lengthy stay in Florida in March. She said upon returning to Oswego, she'll explore what kind of opportunities exist.
She wants to stay involved in the local healthcare scene. "I'm going to stay on a couple of committees and boards," she said. "I definitely want to keep my hand in."

In assessing the state of the healthcare industry in Oswego County, Smith said several issues loom that require attention. "A major issue is the potential closure of the Central Square Health Center," she said. "I certainly see that as a big problem for folks in that area."

Meanwhile, she said Northern Oswego County Health Services in Pulaski has resulted in an improvement in access to care over the last 10 to 20 years, particularly with the availability of managed care plans.

Also, Smith said she sees a problem in recruiting specialists to the county. "A good percentage of our population goes out of town to get specialized care," she said.
(By Lou Sorendo)