Part 4 of the 90th Anniversary for the Health Department

This article is Part IV of the 90th Anniversary of the Cattaraugus County Health Department Series.

Year 2013 marks the 90th Anniversary for the Cattaraugus County Health Department, the first organized county health department in New York State. It has been our privilege to share a brief history with the public, most of which is taken from C.E.A. Winslow’s Health on the Farm and in the Village: A Review and Evaluation of the Cattaraugus County Health Demonstration with Special Reference to Its Lessons for Other Rural Areas, 1931. (Parts 1 through 3 were published in previous months).

In 1923, the Cattaraugus County Health Department (CCHD) was officially launched as the first organized county health unit in New York State by the County Board of Supervisors. The Supervisors established a County Board of Health, which in turn appointed the county health officer and director of the demonstration. Cattaraugus County was of particular interest to the Milbank Memorial Fund for its already active interest in health programs. To build on efforts already in place, the Fund issued the new county health department to specifically address tuberculosis control and maternal and child health. The first efforts initiated by the newly formed department were aimed at establishing organization. With headquarters in Olean, six distinct bureaus were created to address communicable disease, tuberculosis, statistical records, laboratory diagnostic services, maternity, infant and child hygiene, and health education and awareness. At the same time, six district health stations were created, each run by a public health nurse; county school hygiene services were developed to provide examinations; and a health education program and social service organization were developed.

Activities were extensive; see highlights provided from 1923 to 1929:

  • 1923 – 6,647 children had been examined in 249 schools

  • 1924 – 144 tuberculosis clinics held with 2,928 examinations made, raising the level of identified new cases from 77 in 1922 to 343 in 1924; thirteen public health nurses were now on staff – paid total of 16,855 visits over the year; the Tuberculosis and Public Health Association conducted a survey to identify disabled children – 175 were identified; five orthopedic clinics were held

  • 1925 – 16 public health nurses on staff and an additional 8 public health nurses were employed by local agencies for a total of one nurse per 3,000 residents; tuberculosis mortality showed its first significant drop, from 50 to 35 deaths per year; an active campaign to detect tuberculosis among school children was initiated with 1,278 children being examined

  • 1926 – programs were organized to address maternal and child health issues, with 740 children attending medical conferences, including 336 under the age of two; a second venereal disease clinic was opened in Salamanca with 41 sessions held, in addition to the 104 sessions held at the Olean clinic; a sanitary inspector was appointed and surveys begun, covering 26% of the county’s towns by end of year; dairy inspections were also initiated. A new children’s health camp was established at Allegany State Park; 141 children were enrolled in its first summer of operation. The County’s public health nursing staff had grown to 27. Work of the Laboratory had increased to 7,692 tests conducted. The HD began its first campaign to reduce auto crashes and the first appraisal of county health work was conducted by the American Public Health Association.

  • 1927 – in recognition of high infant death rates during the first month of life, nursing staff more than doubled their efforts, increasing their prenatal case load from 115 in 1926 to 257 in 1927.

  • 1928 – this was a difficult year due to an outbreak of typhoid fever in Olean. An initial outbreak in February involving 1,000 cases of enteritis was attributed to an auxiliary city water supply. There were an additional estimated 10,000 cases of enteritis during the first two weeks of September. In the end, 212 cases of typhoid fever developed in Olean and an additional 18 cases were traced back to Olean. Two emergency hospitals were opened to help handle the epidemic and the American Red Cross helped organize over 100 private duty nurses to provide assistance. The city paid for the private duty nurses, drugs, and hospital expenses, as well as 6,000 anti-typhoid vaccinations. Ultimately the Olean Health Officer and Board of Water Commissioners resigned and responsibility was given to the County Board of Health and County Health Department. On a more positive note, 211 of the county’s 268 village and rural schools had implemented a system of daily instruction.

  • 1929 – During this final year of the demonstration, a mild outbreak of smallpox occurred in Olean, with 53 cases and no deaths; response from the HD was swift with 8,000 vaccinations performed including 90% of Olean’s school children. The Laboratory performed 18,631 tests. Full integration of sanitary efforts followed the 1928 outbreak; of the county’s 20 water supplies, 13 were reported improved by end of year and 90% of residents were served by satisfactory water supply. Nearly half of public health nursing visits were on behalf of prenatal cases, infants and preschool children; the infant mortality rate dropped to 53 per 100,000.

It has been our pleasure sharing our history with you. Feel free to call us at either 800-251-2584 or at 716-373-8050 if you have any questions or concerns. We look forward to serving you for another 90 years!

Submitted on December 12, 2013 by Debra J. Nichols, Public Health Educator

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